Samford University

Hidden Gems: Samuel Sterling Sherman Plaque Outside Samford Hall

The first president of Samford University, then Howard College, was a 27-year old Vermont native, Samuel Sterling Sherman. Starting in 1842 with one building and one faculty member in Marion, Ala., he helped the school begin its lengthy maturation process that resulted in the Samford University of today.

Sherman Oak Plaque

Sherman’s legacy lives in part because of the lasting nature of an oak tree bearing his name on the front lawn of Samford Hall.  A plaque near the tree commemorates Sherman.

The first president left Samford in 1852, and the school moved from Marion to Birmingham's East Lake section in 1887. But the school remembered the contributions of Sherman by naming a gigantic oak tree in his honor on the East Lake campus. Located at the center of the campus quadrangle, Sherman Oak was the site of numerous campus events held under its shade, according to Elizabeth Wells, chair of the Special Collection at Samford's University Library.

When Samford moved to its present campus in 1957, Sherman Oak was unable to make trip. The beloved tree continued to prosper for several decades before the ravages of time and weather resulted in its death. But before the tree was taken down in the 1990s, then-President Thomas Corts arranged for acorns and bark from the original oak to be saved for future purposes.

The acorns were cultivated into Sherman Oak seedlings, one of which was planted on Talbird Circle of the Homewood campus. The tree grew too large for the area and in 2007 was relocated to the front of Samford Hall. There, the mighty oak took root, standing as a reminder of the school's first president and its best known landmark from East Lake days.

Regardless of its location, Sherman Oak remains a living symbol of the tenacious nature of Samford and its community.

Parts of the original Sherman Oak can be seen in the Special Collection of the Harwell G. Davis University Library.

Editor's note: This is one in a recurring series on "hidden gems" on the Samford University campus.