Is this Amarillo’s Oldest Tree – and how much history can we learn from it?

– L. Arthalia Cravin

This gigantic tree is located at 520 SW 5th Street in Amarillo-at the corner of NW 5th and South Monroe. It is by far the largest tree that I have seen in Amarillo. I would hate for any of these huge limbs to ever fall on this house. But beyond that, what can this tree teach us about some of Amarillo’s history?

We are often urged to “plant a tree” to remind future generations of the passage of time. Not too long ago I planted a Pinion Pine in my back yard. The nursery told that the tree should grow about 6 inches a year. Well, given its slow growth rate I will be gone on to glory before the tree reaches 10 feet tall. But, whoever becomes the owner of this property in years to come hopefully will appreciate the shade and the beauty I tried to bestow upon this yard. And, I hope that when the future owners of this property look at their Pinion Pine that they will remember who planted it. But probably not. Who remembers who plants trees?

But I do wonder who planted this gigantic Chinese Elm on 5th Street. The county appraisal records say that the house was built in 1939. So if the tree was planted when the house was built this tree is now almost 75 years old. But on the other hand, maybe the tree was there first and beckoned the homeowner to “build here.” Whichever, this tree has aged well. And if this tree could talk it could tell us a lot about how Amarillo grew. It could tell us a lot about when 5th Street was named, when it was bricked, because this is one of the areas where the streets are still brick. This tree could also tell us when Monroe Street was named and paved. We know it was named for our 5th President James Monroe who served from 1817 to 1825. But this tree could also tell us a lot more about how Amarillo grew from the old Bowery district that was bounded by First and Third streets and Buchanan an Grants Street, an area that back in the early 1900s had half a dozen brothels—uh, whore houses. The Bowery district faded away after church leaders protested the area and Prohibition in 1911. What replaced the older Bowery district are the remnants of the light industrial buildings that currently surround the immediate areas where this tree is located.

This tree could probably tell us a lot about how Amarillo’s population grew over time, from a population of 482 in 1890, to 1442 in 1990, to well over 50,000 in 1940. This 75 year old tree has witnessed Amarillo’s population continue to grow, from 149,230 in 1980 to 173,627 in 2000 to its current estimated population of 190,695 in 2010–and still growing.

But I still wonder about the person who planted this tree. What is their Amarillo family legacy? Who are the great grandsons and granddaughters of the person who planted the small twig that eventually became this massive tree? Are there pictures anywhere in old photo albums of children who lived at this house and played under this tree as it grew and grew? If this tree could talk what secrets would it reveal?What has keept this tree growing for so long while other Elms all across town have already been reduced to firewood?

It takes a massive tree for us humans to be reminded that “only God can make a tree.” This tree should be a reminder to all of Amarillo that God indeed—still is.

Copyright 2012 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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