Saturday, April 14, 2018

1922 Piece Gives Alternate History for Waldo Park and Tree

Waldo Park, 1958
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
There's a cheering piece in Salem Weekly about replanting Waldo Park with native plants and tending to it so the ivy doesn't come back. It was cleared first in 2015, and after a couple more rounds of attention the new planting seems to have made it through the winter.

Threats to trees in 1922! (August 12, 1922)
A piece from almost 100 years ago recently turned up, and it gives a different history of the tree. (It's also an interesting early story of Salemites apparently successfully protesting urban tree cutting.)
Trouble looms for the Salem city council unless it elects to reconsider its recent order to cut down the giant redwood tree - the second one of its kind in Marion county - which for 73 years has stood at the corner of what is now Summer and Union streets....

The tree was brought to Oregon from California during the 1849 gold rush by Daniel Waldo...and was planted in what was then his front yard. The Waldo home stood for many years in what is now Union Street and faced the state capitol.

The tree was growing before the City of Salem was platted by Dr. W.H. Willson in 1850. Although it stand near the car track there is room for vehicle to pass on either side of it. [this photo from c.1948 shows street on both sides]
Our accepted history dates it younger by one generation. Daniel Waldo's son, William, was the one who planted it in this origin story.
The year was 1872, and a traveling salesman was passing through a rural community way out West. The community was Salem. The salesman was peddling Sequoia gigantea, Redwoods.

Judge William Waldo bought one and planted it on his property, which happened to be outside the city limits. The tree and the town grew, and so did William Waldo's prominence in the city's affairs. When the time came for Waldo's property to be platted and taken into the city, the judge's influence was great enough so he could successfully insist that the tree be preserved before he vacated his land for a state highway. [link to burial and obituaries added]
The itinerary of this "traveling salesman" has always been of interest, and it has seemed like there should be other trees standing from these 1872 plantings.

But what is the original documentation for the dating? Why are we confident in 1872? Is there any chance 1849 is right instead?

Waldo House through the years
(Pioneer Houses and Homesteads
in the Willamette Valley, 1841-1865
HPLO/Restore Oregon)
There are good reasons to doubt the earlier one of 1849. Daniel Waldo had a place out in what we know as the Waldo Hills, not one closer to town. It's probable that the 1922 piece mixes up some details - or maybe is just outright making stuff up for a better story! An earlier piece it references, from August 5th, says William planted the tree and is consistent with the 1872 story, though it gets the date of William's death wrong. (There are ways this earlier age of journalism was better, but editorial oversight was not necessarily one of them.) At the time of William's death, the tree was not mentioned in the obituaries, and it would be interesting to learn more about how interest in it developed and came to focus.

The plaque in 2012
It is likely that the real interest came in the 1930s with the "American War Mothers" plaque. (This looks modeled on the plaques of Daughters the American Revolution. There might be more to say about this kind of activity locally.)

Still, what what is our authority for the 1872 date? It is possible it's also a jumble! Do you know? And if any detail from the 1922 piece can be trusted, what about the "first" Sequoia in Marion County? (Like the Star Trees at Willamette, there are lots of Sequoias from the middle 20th century around town, and there seemed to be a fashion for them, but what about 19th century examples? It seems like there's a potentially interesting rural and urban history of their planting - especially if we can get a bead on this traveling salesman.)

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