Decatur 300-year-old tree that came down barely misses lawyer

Posted by Dena Mellick July 2, 2015
Contractors for Southland Tree Service remove parts of a 300-year-old red oak tree that fell along East Ponce De Leon Avenue on Thursday, June 18, 2015. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Contractors for Southland Tree Service remove parts of a 300-year-old red oak tree that fell along East Ponce De Leon Avenue on Thursday, June 18, 2015. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

By Dena Mellick, Associate editor

A 300-year-old Decatur tree that came down during a June storm, barely missed a man working in his office that evening.

Larry McDaniel, founder and principal owner of Trinity Title Insurance, said the 300-year-old red oak did some serious damage to the building on East Ponce De Leon Avenue, across the street from Glennwood Elementary, but it could have been much worse.

“When it came down, the tree service that cleaned it all up told me that the way one huge limb hit the parking lot saved that whole right corner of the building from being crushed,” McDaniel said. “My law partner, Alan Scott, was sitting in that right front corner office, which used to be mine. He was sitting right there when it happened. If the tree hadn’t fallen just so, there’s no telling what might have happened.”

McDaniel also noted that a flag pole, installed by his father who bought the building with him 28 years ago, actually helped prevent more damage. “The flag pole that my dad had built 20-some odd years ago and installed right by that front corner is now in the shape of a “C”… that helped deflect some of it too when it went down,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel said the tree was growing before the city of Decatur was founded and was one of the largest red oaks in metro Atlanta.

“I sort of babied that tree,” he said. “I had tree services come out every year to cut out dead limbs.”

McDaniel said when he and his father, who was also an attorney, purchased the building nearly 30 years ago, McDaniel got a ladder and climbed up into the giant tree.

Southland Tree Service removed the tree when it came down last month. Lee Smith with Southland previously told Decaturish, “What happens when a red oak tree gets that old and that big, it starts rotting from the inside. “All big red oak trees are hollow inside, and from there the roots start rotting away.”

Smith said he’s been in this business for 20 years and has only seen one other fallen tree as big as the one that fell in Decatur.

Removing such a large tree was not cheap.

“Just for moving the tree, I knew it would be expensive,” McDaniel said. “I’m glad the insurance company’s paying for it. It’s right at $24,000. And that doesn’t include removing the stump, which is still out there. They had a 20-ton crane that could only roll it around, it couldn’t lift it.”

McDaniel is semi-retired and has moved to Florida. Family and employees run the Decatur business here, but he said the tree damage required a trip to Decatur to deal with insurance and repairs. McDaniel said he’s still getting estimates on the extent of the structural damage and the total cost, but it’s likely Trinity Title will have to temporarily move offices during the repairs.

McDaniel said he asked the tree removal company not to take away all of the tree. They left two separate two-foot sections, each weighing between 1500 and 2000 pounds. McDaniel wants to create a memorial to remember the historic red oak tree and his father who bought the Decatur building with him.

“Now if I can get my act together, I intend to have one of those chainsaw artists come out and do something like an eagle to put out there in memory of the tree and my dad,” McDaniel said. “He was super special. He passed the bar the year I was born in 1947. …My dad was a great influence on my life, not only as a lawyer, but as a person.”

About Dena Mellick

Dena Mellick is the Associate Editor of

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