The Atlanta History Center has unveiled a table unlike any other in their front garden that borders West Paces Ferry Road. There under the shade of a canopy of trees, sits a massive 60’ long table in the shape of a fallen tree. Consisting of 36 slabs of 3-inch thick wood, the parts all came from a white oak that had sprouted on the grounds of what is now the Atlanta History Center back in the 1880s.
The innovative design was conceptualized by Sarah Roberts, the Vice President of Goizueta Gardens and Living Collections at the Atlanta History Center. She had noticed that the 140+ year-old tree was on the decline and instead of simply removing it from the property she wanted to honor and preserve it in a permanent way. Roberts contacted local Buckhead woodworker Kirk McAlpin and enlisted him to transform the wood into a gathering place for those who visit the center in the form of a huge table.
A local tree service took down the tree, the wood was then milled into 8- to 10-foot sections and stacked in an unused parking spot of the Center’s garage for two years to dry out.
“From the first conversations I thought it was a little crazy, but felt 100% determined that we would figure out how to do it,” said McAlpin, the woodworker who spent more than 1000 hours over seven months planning, designing, and installing the table which was completed in collaboration with the Atlanta History Center staff and metalworkers. McAlpin attributes his connection to this project as serendipity. His wife knew Sarah Roberts from the non-profit sector of the public gardens world, and when Roberts approached McAlpin with a drawing he knew immediately that he wanted to tackle this project.
“I said ‘yes, I’m your guy!’” McAlpin explained. “I felt like I had been training for this by doing lots of live-edge slab tables. The project was extremely ambitious and I felt very confident that I could do it, and wouldn’t have taken it on otherwise.” Fortunately he had just completed a project creating outdoor benches for Olmsted Linear Parks which required a two-part finish used in boat building that is very durable and waterproof, so he was able to bring that knowledge to the construction of this project and ensure that it will withstand the elements.
McAlpin understood the importance of this project and knew there was very little room for error in the design, so he set about his planning process very carefully. With over 150 pages of notes, he was able to make the table durable, beautiful, and representative of Roberts’ grand idea.
“I love going to the Atlanta History Center,” said McAlpin. “I spent 7 months there, I made friends and got lots of help lugging around these huge pieces of wood from the Goizueta Garden staff. It’s a little nerve-wracking but amazing to see the Tree Table out in its new home being used by people.” Knowing that it would be used and enjoyed by so many people was a huge motivation for McAlpin during the long process of bringing the one-of-a-kind table to life.
On any given day you will see a number of people and their pets enjoying the table, many enjoying a coffee from Brash or a lunch from Souper Jenny (both are just a few steps away). The table is sanitized regularly to ensure cleanliness. During COVID times this outdoor gathering place has been a welcome respite from the confines of work from home and quarantines. Due to the unique design that sprawls outward from the central trunk many people can use it at once without being too close together.
The Tree Table seems destined to be a cherished gathering spot for many years to come and is a prime example of the Atlanta History Center’s ongoing commitment to finding ingenious ways of preserving our city’s history. Even when development and construction is booming all around us the Center reminds us that it’s possible to find creative ways to honor our past.
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