Pi Beta Phi Poplar

The Gatlinburg “Big Tree”, as it is known locally, was estimated to be 225 years old. Gatlinburg’s first settlers, the Ogle family, moved from South Carolina to Sevier County, Tennessee and eventually to the Gatlinburg location in 1803. This huge poplar predates their arrival and for some unknown reason it was never cut for agriculture, pasture, firewood, or in later years for building materials.

In 1912 the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity was searching for property to build a settlement school. E.E. Ogle, a descendant of the first Ogles, donated a portion of this property, where the “Big Tree” is located and through community subscription, money was raised to purchase more land from Mr. Ogle, for a total of 70 acres. The land was given to Pi Beta Phi for a school, and the tree was about 118 years old at that time.

Generations of Gatlinburg school children played around this massive tulip poplar. Many fond childhood memories were created here, and there is a true emotional bond between former Pi Beta Phi students and the tree.

The poplar is declining due to age and urban sprawl but still stands proudly as a living monument to the formation and history of this mountain community.

Historic Tree, 2020 • Nominated by Randall Brien • Picture by Debbie Vandergriff