Friday, September 30, 2022

More on Origins of Waldo Park: American War Mothers, the Bush Family, and Formal Establishment in 1936

You may recall the note about the City's desire to cut down the sequoia tree in what is now Waldo Park in August of 1922.

The Waldo Park Tree at mid-century
via State Archives

August 12, 1922

The American War Mothers plaque

The tree was not cut down and the American War Mothers here proposed it as a war memorial. Within a few years that function was abandoned, and later the War Mothers reframed the tree as a landmark of local history. The tree and subsequent park express a number of interesting cultural tensions we'll touch on. Some of them might deserve more discussion in another post.

Discussion of the tree goes back a ways, sometimes the origin ascribed to Daniel Waldo, sometimes to son William, "Judge Waldo."

May 4th, 1904

August 1st, 1911

Early paving projects were a direct threat.

Oregonian, Aug. 20th; Daily Journal, Aug. 22nd, 1922

The tree and debate over it earned notice in the Portland newspapers. Patronage from A. N. Bush and a still fairly novel application of outdoor lighting led the news. They also repeated the dubious origin story with Daniel Waldo. This legend had real sticking power.

August 22nd and September 6th, 1922

The full memorial with names stalled out in the 1920s. It is likely that interest shifted to the Doughboy Memorial dedicated on Armistice Day in 1924.

Nov. 12th, 1924

A decade later, on February 14th, 1932 the Bitsman published a longer note about the tree. He cited an origin with William. He also focused on the advocacy of Lulu Hughes Bush rather than of her husband A. N. Bush. Also note that the Pacific Highway alignment went along Summer Street for a while before shifting over to Capitol Street.

[On the radio show] Last Tuesday Salem's famous big tree was the subject. It is known as the William Waldo redwood. It stands in Summer street, near Division, and it now sweeps the sky at the height of 78 feet, and is symmetrical in the grandeur of its perennial verdure; in short, a perfect and beautiful tree. There are many trees called redwood. This is really a "California big tree," its botanical name being sequoia gigantae, or sequoia Washingtoniana. The true California redwood is the sequoia sempervlrens (meaning always living), and the sequoia coming from Sequoyah, who Invented the Cherokee Indian alphabet.

This redwood (really California big tree) came from a sprout bought from a peddler in 1872 by the late Judge William Waldo, pioneer son of Daniel Waldo, noted pioneer for whom the Waldo hills section was named. William Waldo set out the little tree near his home on what was then an acreage tract. The city grew. New platting placed the tree in the street. It was condemned to die, being an obstruction to traffic. But a "woodman spare that tree" chorus was raised, and Its life was saved.

Again, when the streets were to be paved, another sentence of death was passed. Then the American War Mothers, Salem chapter, newly organized, sought a pardon, planning to make the tree a memorial for service men. For one reason or another, though this plan was at first sanctioned and on the way to being carried out, it was abandoned and preparations went forward for the destruction of the tree.

Then Mrs. A. N. Bush, heir to tree loving traditions by inheritance and marriage, took up the life saving quest. She went before the city council, saw the members of its committees or had them interviewed. In short, she was earnest and tireless. Her efforts met with final success, upon her personal agreement to maintain light to warn motorists. She fulfilled her promise; kept a bright electric light burning there as a warning sign as long as North Summer was the through street of the Pacific highway. After the opening of Capitol street through the Hollywood section, which had been a wheat field, that street became the route of the Pacific highway. Since that time, the city has maintained a reflector on the north side of the tree, making a fair warning signal at night in not too foggy weather. The street light near the south curb serves the same purpose there. The space where the tree stands, 10 by 15 feet, is claimed to be the smallest city park In the United States. It is surrounded by a concrete curb.

Here is what I believe is the location of the William Waldo house and the approximate location of the tree. (Summer Street runs down the edge of two maps, so this is a spliced composite. Also note that both Summer and Capitol dead end here in 1895.)

William Waldo house site?
(1895 Sanborn maps, Library of Congress)

A few years after that 1932 piece, in 1936 City Council formally recognized the tree as a park. The plaque may date from this action. As the Bitsman suggested, the tree and park no longer functioned as a gold star war memorial. (And you will notice the sideshow puffery on "smallest" park.)

June 17th and June 19th, 1936

That year there was a cluster of tree interest and dedications. A lecturer from the State forest extension service, also present at the park dedication, had talked about local historic trees in March of 1936. The news piece led with the Waldo tree. (The activity in it dated to 1925 appears misdated and must instead be the action in 1922.)

March 25th, 1936

The lecture also touched on the Riding Whip Tree at what is now Geercrest Farm.

A week or so after the talk the Daughters of the American Revolution decided the Riding Whip Tree merited formal recognition. (See the report on the April DAR meeting during which they chose the Riding Whip Tree; the Bitsman in a short series on the tree starting on July 7th; and the report on the dedication on July 14th.)

July 6th, 1936

Old trees associated with early settler families were a real topic in a slice of popular culture. 

April 7th, 1935

But note also that Mrs. C. C. Geer was regent of the Chemeketa chapter of DAR at that moment. Molly had married a grandson of Ralph Carey Geer. As we have seen with R. A. Booth and the Circuit Rider statue and Burt Brown Barker and the Pioneer Mother statute in Eugene, this is another instance of conflating - even constituting - family history as public history. Leadership of the Chemeketa chapter was no disinterested party selecting monuments impartially.

The story of Waldo Park, then, is very much tied up in the pioneer myth and the efforts in the 1920s and 30s to recharter that myth of origins.

Some additional footnotey things:

December 31st, 1875

No comments: