It may sound like the title of a children’s story, but the tree that owns itself is entirely real. A white oak in Athens, Georgia, owns itself and the land it stands on for 8 feet in each direction.
The tree gained ownership of this land in the early 1800s when William Henry Jackson deeded ownership to it. The original deed has never been located. However, an excerpt from it does appeared in an article from the Athens Weekly Banner on August 12, 1890:
“That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides.”
The newspaper article also suggested that Jackson’s fondness for the tree was born of positive childhood memories and nostalgia. Technically, the tree should not be able to retain legal ownership of itself. Inanimate objects are not generally considered to have the legal capacity to “accept” deeded ownership. But the plat map for the county shows that none of the lots include the tree or its land.
Possibly even more importantly, the community has fully embraced the Tree that Owns Itself as one of their own. The Athens Junior Ladies Garden Club maintains the plot with the help of neighbors and the local government. A philanthropist contributed money to fight erosion around the tree in 1906. And after a storm in 1942 felled the tree, the community planted one of the tree’s seedlings on the lot, and therefore retained the unique legal status. People sometimes call it “The Son of The Tree that Owns Itself”, but it’s still referred to by the previous, shorter name as well. The community celebrates major anniversaries of the planting of the second tree, and the oak attracts both tourist and local visitors.
For other weird geography, check out The Weird World of Extremely Wrong Maps.