The Afterlife of a Longleaf Pine (EyR1)

As a part of our advocacy for increasing the awareness and the level of material reclamation, we’ve created our “Exclaim Your Reclaim”  (EyR) campaign. We will feature case studies of creative re-use, and include as much detail as possible regarding the process and practicalities, the green jobs created, the amount of new materials not used, and the heritage of the materials—the family tree, if you will, of the wood. We invite you to contact us if you have a compelling story that we can help you tell.

By Scott Boylston

Before the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, before Thomas Edison patented the electric incandescent lamp, even before the gunfight at the OK Corral, a tree was cut down in Savannah. With the aid of a mule, a barge, a pulley system and a heavy lead weight, that tree was then driven 35 feet into the mud along the southern bank of the Savannah River, just east of downtown Savannah.


1891 map of Savannah with the highlighted area of where the pilings were harvested. Courtesy of the Savannah Morning News.

In 2008, that piling, along with at least 40 others, was pulled from the Savannah River muck to make way for the 2,000 foot extension of the riverwalk. No mules were needed this time, not unless you account for the stubborn resolve in the pursuit of turning that 140-year old piece of lumber into the planter you see here.


The planter, located at 427 East York Street, in downtown Savannah’s historic district and approved by the Historic Board of Review, was the brainchild of Patrick Shay, President of Gunn Meyerhoff Shay Architects, and Chatham County Commissioner.

To put it simply, this new planter is old.


The pilings as they appeared before removal, with the Talmudge Bridge in the background.

But what are the details of this renewal; this transformative journey? According to Ramsey Khalidi of Southern Pine Co., who is a board member of Emergent Structures and has long been a leader in the reclamation movement in Savannah,  the planter was made from about 3 piling ‘drops,’ that is the remaining 4-6’ sections of 3 pilings after the rest of them had been cut to create flooring.


We will be providing visual stories for each case study that elucidate the journey of materials as they make their way from one use to the next.

A tree cut down 140 years ago that’s been turned into an urban garden planter ranks pretty high as an expression of sustainable thinking. While it’s not possible to quantify every benefit of reclaiming materials for re-use, the construction of this planter put three people to work for a full week; one skilled laborer, and 2 semi-skilled laborers. And this doesn’t account for the initial labor required to get the wood from the riverbed to the Southern Pine Company’s mill, or the re-purposing of the embodied energy of the materials.

The new 20′ x 4′ urban garden is chock full of flowers, edibles and herbs. Talk about resource productivity!


A peek into the rebirthing process at Southern Pine Co., where a 140 year old piling is transformed into an urban planter.

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