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Historic Statesboro tree’s crash close call for Savannah Avenue neighbors
‘Honey’s house’ oak thought to have been 150 years old
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Charles Townsend is shown standing next to the massive red oak tree that fell Sept. 3 at the Savannah Avenue address of the Townsends' next-door neighbors Wanda and Bennie Lee. - photo by PHOTO COURTESY NINA TOWNSEND

A huge, more than century-old oak at a Savannah Avenue house with historic local connotations collapsed two weeks ago, crushing a truck on a neighboring home’s driveway minutes after a man and his teenage son had gotten out.

The tree, a red oak, stood on the grounds of 341 Savannah Ave., once the home of Generia Honeycutt “Honey” Bowen and her husband, W.A. “Bill” Bowen.

Previously a City Council member, Bill Bowen was mayor of Statesboro for 18 years, from the 1950s until December 1970, and died in May 1973. Living on until June 1997, Honey Bowen was a driving force in founding both the Statesboro Beautification Commission and what is now the Bulloch County Recreation and Parks Department, officed in, of course, the Honey Bowen Building.

For the last eight years, Bennie and Wanda Lee have lived in what some people still call “Miss Honey’s house” on Savannah Avenue, renting from current owner Chad Hilde. Wanda Lee even named her homebased baking business Honeybyrd’s Cookies, combining the “Honey’s house” location with her granddaughter Byrdee Jo’s name.

Lee had been outside near the tree earlier on Sept. 3 but had gone inside when it fell, around 2:30 p.m. that Saturday.

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Charles Townsend and his son had just returned from lunch when a 150-year-old tree on Savannah Avenue fell and crushed the truck he and his son had taken to lunch. - photo by PHOTO COURTESY NINA TOWNSEND

“We heard a ‘pop’ sound, like a door slamming…,” she said. “We were in the house, did not know the tree had fallen, heard the ‘pop’ and then heard this ‘boom,’ and when we went out the door, we saw that it had fallen on the neighbor’s truck, and it had taken our power lines down.”

 

A close call

That neighbor is Charles Townsend, who lives next door with wife Nina, son Charlie and daughter Emma-Charles. Charles and Charlie, 13, had just returned from lunch at a favorite Mexican restaurant and walked inside their home.

Away on a trip to Tennessee, Nina Townsend received a call from her husband that she at first didn’t believe.

“I thought he was joking when he called and told me that the tree next door finally fell and it crushed his truck, and I was like, ‘Whatever, shut up,’ and he was like, ‘No, I’m serious,’” Townsend recounted this week.

“We’re very fortunate, I mean, because Charles and Charlie had just gotten home,” she said. “They had just pulled up, so they had been inside maybe 10 minutes before the tree fell, so I’m very fortunate, because the way the tree fell, my husband would have been killed for sure. It fell right on top of the driver’s side.”

The truck, which she described as her husband’s work truck, was totaled but insured.  On social media that weekend, Townsend expressed thanks to God that her family members and neighbor were spared.

 

Not the wind

No immediate wind or weather accounted for the tree’s fall.

“It was cloudy, but it was not raining and the wind wasn’t blowing, although, you know for the past two or three months we’ve had a lot of rain, but it wasn’t a case of the tree uprooting, because the roots were still there,” Lee said. “The tree broke.”

But the oak had a hollow, and the Lees were aware of something, such as opossums or racoons, living inside it, since they had seen eyes, she said.

The Townsends knew the tree was old, having been told it was the third oldest of its kind in Georgia, something the Statesboro Herald has not confirmed. Nina Townsend, who observed that huge limbs had fallen onto the driveway during storms, had long been concerned that the tree was dying.

“You know, people walk their dogs up and down Savannah Avenue all the time, and people stroll their babies up and down. I’ve always been fearful that something was going to happen, that the tree was going to fall,” she said. “I’m just thankful that nobody was walking under it or near it when it did decide to come down.”

So she expressed relief that the tree is gone.

Hilde, owner of 341 Savannah Ave., had a tree service haul away the remains and grind the stump, said Lee, who also expressed gratitude that nobody was hurt.

 

Landmark mourned

But local tree enthusiasts mourned the oak’s passing. Statesboro City Council member Shari Barr on Sept. 6 brought a portion of the bark to both the City Council meeting and the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners’ meeting.

“I love trees, and I think I’ve more in my middle and later life awakened to the importance of trees,” Barr said in an interview. “You know, they clean the air that we breathe and they filter the water that sinks into the ground before it gets back to the aquifer, so they are really hugely important to the quality of our life … besides the fact that it’s the shade, the canopy that helps hold down temperatures.”

But like all living things, trees do eventually die, she noted.

“And then it’s also kind of a spiritual connection, you know, something that’s been here that long providing service to us, and it’s just nice to mark the transitions of something that’s been there that long and it’s been a landmark,” Barr said.

She and City of Statesboro Tree Board chairman Wes Parker identified the tree as a red oak, and Parker said he wouldn’t argue with an estimate that the tree was about 150 years old.

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