Park & Tree Commission
Park and Tree Commission Meeting Dates 2021
*All meetings are held via Zoom. The time of each meeting is 4:15 PM from January to December.
**August meeting may be cancelled, pending June vote
Creation of the Committee
The City of Savannah Park and Tree Commission was created by council in December 1895, with the first meeting to be held in January 1896. The first commission consisted of five members. The first appointments were one for two years, two for four years, and two for six years. After that an appointment was sent in by the Mayor biannually.
Each member subscribed the following oath: “I swear that I will faithfully and impartially demean myself as a member of the Park and Tree Commission of the City of Savannah, during my continuance in office, and will well and truly perform all the duties of said office; and that I will neither be concerned or interested peculiarly, directly or indirectly, in any contract for work or material furnished for or on behalf of any work, improvement, or preservation of the parks, squares, grass plats, trees, and flowers of said City, while a member of said Commission.”
The commission was to elect one of the commissioners as secretary, one as chairman, and one as vice-chairman. The first Chairman of the Park and Tree Commission was Dr. George H. Stone and served for the first two years (1896-1897).
P.D. Daffin, Chairman
1898 - 1929
Mr. P.D. Daffin was the second chairman of the Park and Tree Commission, and served from 1898 until his death in December 1929. Daffin Park, located between Victory Drive and Washington Avenue and Waters Road and Bee Road, was named for Mr. Daffin. This name was chosen over Jefferson Davis and Colonel Grayson. An article written by Robert P. Bennett describes Mr. Daffin as a man who “was truly a lover of trees.
Mary Helen Ray, Chairman
1978 - 1995
From 1978 - 1995 Mary Helen Ray served as Chairman of the Park and Tree Commission. Mrs. Ray is truly interested in urban forestry and the “Forest City” in particular. She has worked tirelessly to beautify our City and to preserve our “forest City” status. In addition to being Park and Tree Commission Chairman, she was the Co-Chairman for the Georgia Legacies Etched on the Land - the Commission’s Centennial Celebration as well as being involved with Savannah Area Council of Garden Clubs, National Council of State Garden Clubs as Historic Preservation Chairman, and a founding member of the State Botanical Gardens in Athens.
During Mrs. Ray's tenure as Chairman of the Commission, the Park and Tree Department:
- Established a preventative maintenance pruning program, initiated and completed the first comprehensive tree inventory
- Helped create and was a charter member of the Georgia Urban Forest Council
- Established a comprehensive turf maintenance program which produced resort quality turf year round in the squares
The commission was heavily involved in the conservation of Colonial Cemetery and the renovation of the Forsyth Park Fountain. They initiated the Monument Conservation Program, helped to produce the first Land Clearing and Tree Protection Ordinance and passed a Pooper Scooper Ordinance.
One of the first notable achievements of the Park and Tree Commission after she took over was the restoration of the Colonial Park. A state of wildness and desolation existed there. Vaults in many cases had been broken into and coffins were exposed. Within a year, all this was changed and the whole park was transformed into a spot of beauty.
After the restoration of the Colonial Park, the next major project as the building of the mall on Oglethorpe Avenue. The live oaks which extend from East Broad to West Broad (MLK, today) were part of this project. Soon afterwards Emmett Park and a section of Bay Street were changed into beautiful parkways. All the squares around town were dug out, fertilized and trees were planted.
When the commission first took charge there were only 65 acres of parkland. By 1921 there were over 175 acres not including the cemeteries.
The names and terms of the Park and Tree Commission Chairpersons following P. D. Daffin are:
- Thomas H. McMillan, 1929-1938
- Edmund H. Abrahms, 1938-1945
- Dr. A. J. Waring, 1945-1952
- Joseph Harrison, 1952-1955
- William G. Morrell, 1955-1972
- John Wright Carswell, 1972-1973
- Harold V. Hagins, 1973-1978
- Mary Helen Ray, 1978-1995
- Virginia Mobley, 1996
- Barbara Victor, 1997-1998, 2001
- Tom Fulton, 1999
- Fred Tinkle, 2000
- Bettye Berksteiner, 2002-2006
- Frank Lang, 2006-2007
- Walt Harper, 2008 - 2016
- Delores Dyson Engle, 2016 – present
In November 1958, the City government went to a City Manager / City Council type government and the Park and Tree Commission relinquished power and has become an advisory commission to the City Manager and City Council.
In November 1994, City Council adopted an ordinance that lists the powers, duties, and jurisdiction of the commission. And in May 1995, City Council adopted an ordinance changing the number of members from five to nine.