Volumes of history came tumbling down in Getzendaner Park during a storm that swept through Waxahachie and Ellis County in April.
Straight-line winds wreaked havoc on buildings and uprooted scores of aged trees – including what local residents refer to as “the big tree” in Getzendaner Park.
John Smith, director of the Parks and Recreation Department for Waxahachie, said he received a plausible estimate of the tree’s age from representatives of Jim’s Tree Service.
“Jim’s Tree Service has disposed of a lot of trees in the area that were about the same size as the tree in Getzendaner Park and their estimate is that the tree is about 300 years old,” Smith said.
No doubt, the felled tree has inspired quite an array of conversations and speculations as to what history may have been made near – or around the tree.
According to the estimate by Jim’s Tree Service, the tree had been standing for more than 35 years upon the birth of pioneer Daniel Boone and had been spreading its branches for 85 years when Davy Crockett came into the world. It was more than 90 years old when the father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin, and the first president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, were born – and was into its second century of life when Texas became a republic in 1836.
The ancient tree was about 200 years old when the “silver-tongued orator” William Jennings Bryan spoke to a crowd about 100 yards away in the Chautauqua Auditorium in 1909. It was also within earshot of renowned humorist/philosopher Will Rogers, who spoke at the Chautauqua in 1927, according to a history of Chautauqua programs published in the Chautauqua News in 2000.
But it’s not just the fact the tree was alive during notable historic events, it was witness to hundreds of memories that have been cultivated under its shade by regular residents of the Gingerbread City and travelers passing through.
“There have been so many stories shared by people as they have come by here to see the old tree – and there are so many more memories that we will never know about,” Smith said. “And with those stories, have come tears – it’s really sad to see the old tree down.”
Smith is gratified by public response to replant trees and somehow incorporate the historic tree into the future of Getzendaner Park and Waxahachie.
“There has been such a great public outpouring by people wanting to either donate new trees to be planted or people who have volunteered to take part in the planting and are looking forward to it,” Smith said.
So what are the plans for the historic tree?
“Well, right now, Giselle Rutledge of ‘Fun with Carving’ is presently working and will probably be working for a couple of days doing some carving on the tree – right now, she’s carving out a squirrel and, over the next year or so, we hope something new can be added along the way – like carvings of native animals that have crawled through the tree over the years. Hopefully it will look somewhat like a zoo – and provide ecology lessons to children and adults that come to observe it.”
Smith said the tree won’t be utilized as a playground piece due to safety factors.
“We would have to have cushion material beneath it and there would be too many safety issues to open it up to children to climb on it,” he said. “It will be considered public art – and furthermore, we’re just going to ensure that the old tree doesn’t go to waste. We’re going to put the old tree to good use.”
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