Oldest tree in the South finally protected after 3,500 years

Two 6 foot men stand beneath the 3500 year old bald cypress

Longwood, Florida, April 6, 1927: It was a 100-year-old tree and growing strong when Moses was born. It was a 1,000-year-old tree and standing tall when Socrates taught the Greeks and Buddha enlightened Asia. It was 1,500 years old when Christ walked among us in Galilee and Judea. When the Roman Empire fell into oblivion, this mighty tree was 2,000 years old. When Columbus sailed the “ocean blue, in 14 hundred 92″ it had survived 3,000 years.

For some 3,500 years, this majestic bald cypress with a penchant for staying alive has withstood the ravages of man, wars, hurricanes, insects, fires and all that nature hurled against it.

It has defeated time on a small plot of land surrounded by swamp in the central area of a peninsula in North America we now call Florida, just outside our small village of Longwood. It is the oldest living thing in the southern United States.

At the Seminole County Commissioners’ meeting, last night in Sanford, Longwood businessman and Chamber of Commerce leader, C.W. Entzminger, approached the commissioners about creating a park and building a road through the swamp along Soldier Creek to gain easy access to this ancient tree and to the six acres around it. Also, Entzminger and others want this big tree that has defied death for so long finally to be preserved and protected by man.

Earlier this year, Entzminger’s wife persuaded the bald cypress’ owner, Florida State Sen. Moses O. Overstreet, to donate the oldest tree and the six acres to Seminole County to be used for a park. Overstreet agreed to do it. The county agreed to accept the senator’s donation last night.

Overstreet has been enormously successful in the turpentine and lumbering industries here in central Florida for nearly three decades. He became a state senator in 1922.

Overstreet admits over the years he has thought about cutting the giant bald cypress, since it contains an estimated 15,000 board feet of lumber. But, he knew better. When a cypress tree gets to be several hundred years old, its core disintegrates and becomes hollow, so it is not desirable for timber.

Two years ago, this proud bulwark against time stood nearly 200 feet tall, but then, after eons of withstanding every blusterous force imaginable, a hurricane finally snapped the top of its trunk in 1925. So, today, it still stands with defiant dignity but has been reduced in stature to a mere 138 feet high.

Broken, certainly, but it still has life.

The county commissioners plan to start construction on the park that will contain this big tree and on the road leading to it within the next six months.

Update

It would take two years for the Big Tree Park to be named, construction completed and finally dedicated. Former President Calvin Coolidge presided over the

Former President Calvin Coolidge with his wife, Grace, presided over the Big Tree Park dedication ceremony in 1929.

dedication ceremony with his wife in 1929. The big tree itself was named “The Senator,” after Sen. M.O. Overstreet. It is still the oldest known Southern tree in the United States and is located in Big Tree Park in the Spring Hammock Preserve near Longwood, Fla.

It is likely a tree growing somewhere in your life still solicits strong, memorable emotions, like The Senator obviously has done for people who lived near it over the centuries.

The 87-year-old man from Walnut, Miss., who suggested this article on trees, has his own poignant memories of a tree that impacted his life a long time ago. Ted Martindale wrote this poem to capture his feelings about his and his children’s most memorable tree:

A Tree for Life

This fertile land was never bare

Virgin forest always grew there.

An acorn dropped to the ground

In wild country it made no sound.

The vigorous nut in a restless state

Only the Creator knew its fate.

Autumn’s cushion of weeds and grass

Well protected from winter’s blast.

Would it be eaten by wild game

Or burst forth by sun and rain?

It was covered by Master’s hand

Send down root and live again.

Centuries passed under nature’s care

Outside my window the giant stands there.

Beautiful landscape, master of its domain

From massive branches-rusty chains.

Worn links suspend my children’s swings

Each passing day we see the change.

These are my Mississippi Memories

They remain.

Trees can create Southern Memories in so many personal ways. Do you remember yours?

Comments

  1. says

    COOLIDGE DIDN’T DEDICATE TREE IN 1929

    President Calvin Coolidge was in Florida in 1929 to dedicate the Bok Tower and Gardens at Lake Wales, Then, Mr. Bok’s tower was refered to as “the Singing Tower” – there were few carillons in the US. (“Lake Wales” was then Mountain Lake.) It was the last major speech of the Coolidge administration. Herbert Hoover would take over in March.
    However, Coolidge did not visit the “Senator” untill the following year 1930 when he spent a month in Mount Dora at the Lakeside Inn. By then, he was the “former” president. In 1929 he was at Lake Wales for less than ten hours. After the dedication of the tower, the Coolidges had dinner with Mr. Bok and family – then, “Silent Cal” was on his train heading back to Washington.
    Certainly, Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge had their photo taken standing near this great tree. That would have been in 1930. It is a sad thing to lose the “Senator” – it reminds us to guard what we have left and to treasure it.

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