||Two trees were named for Robert Toombs, one of the state's most colorful and controversial statesmen.
He was a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State for the Confederacy and a brigadier general in the
Confederate Army, but as a young freshman at the University of Georgia in 1824, a historian remembers
him as a belligerent youth who was "bold, vigorous, large of build and full of life, fresh from a plantation with plantation ways."
In a magazine article by Larry B. Dendy of the university's Office of Public Information,
it was pointed out that UGA students of that era "were expected to be pious, polite, and proper,
but young Toombs had none of the desired qualities. He chewed tobacco, drank liquor, cursed,
gambled, missed prayers, got into fights, and openly flaunted the rules..." After a vicious attack on two students, he was expelled,
but soon managed to get himself readmitted through a petition to the faculty. In 1828, his senior year, his behavior
had become intolerable, however, and he was permanently dismissed.
Why did a student with such a miserable reputation warrant a tree named in his honor? It is said Toombs returned to Athens on graduation
day and as the commencement exercises were getting underway in the campus chapel, he stood beneath a nearby tree and delivered a speech
so brilliant and powerful that the audience left the chapel and gathered around the big oak to pay rapt attention to his oratory. From that
day, the tree was known as the Toombs Oak.
"Good story," said Dendy, "but it's not true." He called it a "legend that had been handed down by generations of students." Although
the problem student, who later became a trustee and ardent friend of the university, never gave
his own graduation address under the tree, a marble sundial now marks the place on campus where the legendary tree once stood. The
oak was destroyed by lightning on July 4, 1884, a little more than a year before Toombs' death.
Another Toombs Oak stands on the front lawn of his old homeplace in Washington, GA. When federal troops entered the town in 1865,
they were in pursuit of the general; the invaders were determined to hang the fiery Confederate from
the great tree that now bears his name. The elusive Toombs escaped, however, and spent the next
two years in hiding and in exile abroad, later returning to the stately mansion where he remained
an "unreconstructed rebel" for the remainder of his life.
Excerpt from "Great Trees of Georgia" by Howard Bennett
Georgia Forestry, Fall, 1996
Also See: Robert Toombs House, State Historic Site
216 East Robert Toombs Avenue
Washington, Georgia 30673
Tues. - Sat. 9-5, Sun. 2-5
Closed on Mondays (except on some legal holidays), Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
$1.50 ages 18 & under
free ages 5 and under
$2.00 each, Adult tour group (15 or more)
$1.00 each, Youth tour group (15 or more)