A tradition continues: Rolling returns to Toomer’s Corner this fall
By Lindsay Miles Penny
This fall, one of Auburn’s most treasured traditions returns as fans will once again flock to the intersection of College and Magnolia to roll the famous Toomer’s Oaks.
Just over three years have passed since the iconic Toomer’s Oaks’ final rolling in April 2013, when thousands of members of the Auburn family said goodbye to the original oaks. Pounds of toilet paper lined the streets, reaching far into campus, as the trees turned solid white in a matter of minutes.
The two 80-year-old trees were poisoned following the 2010 Iron Bowl, and though the iconic oaks did not survive, the tradition at Toomer’s Corner carries on.
Although the loss of the original oaks was a devastating blow to the Auburn family, fans and alumni have much to look forward to as the university completes its multi-year redevelopment project on Toomer’s Corner.
“Since the removal of the original Auburn Oaks, there have been significant changes to Toomer’s Corner and Samford Park, beginning with the remediation and redevelopment of the corner in 2014,” says Ben Burmester, design project manager in Auburn University’s Office of University Architect. This opened up the university’s corner of the intersection and included a circular seat wall behind the gates, as well as the location for the new oaks that were planted in February 2015.
Almost four years to the day that Auburn announced the lethal poisoning of the historic oaks, two 35-foot-tall replacement trees were rooted. The trees were hauled in from a nursery in Ehrhardt, S.C., on Valentine’s Day 2015.
The tainted soil from the previous trees was replaced with a sand-based soil similar to the new oaks’ natural coastal plains habitat. The new trees were also provided a larger root-growing area than the original oaks.
The Magnolia Avenue tree did not effectively leaf out, and was replaced by a tree from a Florida nursery, which had been dug 16 to 18 months prior to planting at Auburn, allowing the tree to recover from the initial shock of transplant.
The corner underwent a major facelift earlier this year when a new walkway was developed and 10 descendant oaks of the original Toomer’s trees were planted, bringing the multiyear project to a close.
“Descendant trees from the original Auburn Oaks were planted in March 2016, completing Phase II of the Samford Park redevelopment, and is the last active project currently in place for Samford Park,” Burmester says.
The descendant oaks, approximately 15 years old and 15 feet tall, were grown from acorns by the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences starting in 2001, in an attempt to preserve the Auburn Oaks’ legacy.
“The descendant trees were growing offsite, and in the last couple of years were prepped for moving operation,” said Burmester.
The young oaks adorn both sides of the new walkway from the heart of Toomer’s Corner toward Samford Hall, which will one day provide a canopy framing the view from the corner to campus.
Although the origin of rolling Toomer’s Corner is debatable, the tradition is said to have begun at Toomer’s Drugs, a small business adjacent to the corner, and an Auburn landmark for more than 130 years.
During away games, when drugstore employees would receive news of a win from the only telegraph in the city, they would throw the ticker tape from the telegraph onto the power lines outside the store. As the years passed and celebrations ensued, toilet paper began to be thrown and the oak trees became the target.
“The tradition of rolling Toomer’s Corner means so much to our university because it symbolizes our collective love of Auburn,” said Gretchen VanValkenburg, vice president for Alumni Affairs at Auburn University. “It is absolutely amazing to watch multiple generations of the Auburn Family participate in such a cherished tradition. I look forward to joining thousands of Auburn alumni and friends this season to continue this time-honored tradition.”