By Brandon Hembree
Pecans (Carya Illinoinensis) and Southern Red Oaks, Bottomland Red Oaks, Three-Lobed Red Oaks, or Spanish Oaks (Quercas Falcata) are trees that are very common in Sugar Hill and elsewhere in Georgia and the southern United States. Both have a moderate growth rate. Red Oaks can live for 80 years or as long as 600 years. Pecans do not live as long, but they can grow equally as big – sometimes reaching as high as 100 feet. Like all deciduous trees, both lose their leaves and make hard work for property owners in the autumn months of the year. In the old days, families would burn piles of leaves in order to keep up with the work.
Sugar Hill has a very uncommon Pecan and a very uncommon Red Oak. Both are very big and very old. These trees have experienced most of Sugar Hill’s history as a community, even long before it became an official city. Both might even be designated as “Champion Trees” by the Georgia Forestry Commission in the very near future.
Sugar Hill’s champion Pecan is located on the historic Shelley-Howerton property on Level Creek Road. It stands to the left of the old home on the property and casts a good amount of shade on the home site during Georgia’s warm and humid months. Drivers or walkers cannot miss it, heading north or south on Level Creek. It stands out to the eye as you pass by the home. Charlotte Howerton talks about it in her book, “The House on Level Creek Road”. It was special to the Shelley-Howerton family just like the tree is to the Sugar Hill community in modern times. A Black Honey Locust mentioned by Charlotte in her book that was once on the property near an outhouse was likely planted by William Shelley in the 1880s around the same time period as the Pecan. A scientist from the University of Georgia that visited many, many years ago informally designated it as the second oldest Pecan in Georgia. It is certainly one of the tallest. Sugar Hill’s champion Pecan has seen several generations of Shelley’s experience both happiness and sadness and witnessed Sugar Hill evolve from a gold mining community to a modern-day suburban community.
The champion Red Oak in Sugar Hill is located just off of West Broad Street in downtown Sugar Hill. It stands at the back of property recently purchased by the city, surrounded but safely and deliberately kept away from invasive kudzu on adjacent private property. Drivers or walkers will miss it, even if intentionally looking for it. Recently measured by a retired arborist from the Georgia Forestry Commission, it could be one of the biggest and oldest Red Oaks in the state. The tree has a 17-foot circumference and could be as old as 190 years of age or as young as 150 years of age. There are currently three champion Red Oaks in Georgia based on measurements of both circumference and crown. The official first place champion is in Dalton. Recently, Sugar Hill’s Youth Council visited the tree and it is amazing to think about the age difference between the tree and the youth of our community. If 190 years of age, the Red Oak almost predates Gwinnett County. It certainly predates the removal of the Creek and Cherokee Indians from the area that settled along the Chattahoochee River. As a seedling, it would have been in what was considered the wilderness on the very edge of civilization. Sugar Hill’s champion Red Oak, if it could speak, would describe a county and nation that we would hardly recognize today – one that might even sound like a tall tale told by a man that knew trees, Paul Bunyan.
Sugar Hill is a young city, but it has a very rich history. Sugar Hill’s history is special and worth knowing and preserving, whether witnessed by trees or by humans. These sentinels of history quietly await your visit.