Historical Markers, Pt. 1: The George Washington Bicentennial Tree

In 1752, it was decided that George Washington was born on January 22, 1732. Before that, he was born on January 11, 1731. It is not known how he felt about the change.

Two hundred years later, much was made of the bicentenary anniversary of Washington’s birth. A national commission was formed in late 1924, chaired by President Coolidge. The group needed seven years to plan sufficient honors for the occasion. And, indeed, states formed their own commissions, histories were written or rewritten, music was composed, and a seemingly vast amount of celebration occurred. And one of these celebrations was orchestrated by the (now defunct) American Tree Association.

The Washington Bicentennial Tree is located near the north end of the pergola on the south bank of the creek.
The Washington Bicentennial Tree is located near the north end of the pergola on the south bank of the creek. Picture from the urbancreek.com archive.

Their idea was to plant trees, of course. The American Tree Association put out a booklet describing the idea, and yes: It’s about as sappy as possible.

He must have loved the regal beauty of a tree. In the symbolism of a tree can Washington be remembered preeminently. Deep rooted in the ground, a tree is like a man, coming up out of the earth, but lifting its branches to heaven. And as it grows in usefulness, so it grows in beauty. It may outlast the ages, it offers its shade to all alike, and its disinterested ministries succor a thirsty countryside and provide for its physical and aesthetic necessities. So a tree bespeaks the spirit of Washington. He was democratic in his services, regal in his leadership, commanding in his principles, while he extended A brotherly hand to a new and independent people struggling for fuller freedom.

Minneahaha Park was an excellent choice for the planting. Though it has never had an official role as a place of commemoration, it is surely the place in Minneapolis that has the strongest connection to both the honor of and the remembrance of our local past.

In some lost fashion, the tree was planted by someone in 1932.  And two years later, the responsibility for commemorating it was taken on by a local V.F.W. post auxiliary.

Bronze plaque reading: George Washington/ Bi-Centennial Tree/ Planted April 27 1932/ This tablet placed/ Americanization Day/ April 27 1934/ By Halvarson-Bowers Aux' 187/  Veterans of Foreign Wars.
This is the only available photograph of the historical marker for the George Washington Bicentennial Tree. It says: George Washington/ Bi-Centennial Tree/ Planted April 27 1932/ This tablet placed/ Americanization Day/ April 27 1934/ By Halvarson-Bowers Aux’ 187/  Veterans of Foreign Wars. Credit: 2008 Keith L., as posted to the Historical Markers Database.

The Halvarson-Bowers V.F.W. was named after Halvarson and Bowers but it is not known who they were.  The V.F.W. post was located at 2988 36th Av. So., but the place is now occupied by a building from 1957.  The actual address is gone, the V.F.W. post is gone, and unfortunately, the historical marker is gone too.

The Historical Markers Database created a page for this marker in 2009, and at some point between then and now, some horrible, horrible person stole the plaque.

boulder at the base of the tree, no plaque
The boulder at the base of the Washington Bicentennial Tree has a scar showing where the plaque was cut away and stolen. 20 September 2016, urbancreek.com archives.

Vandals ruin things. At least the tree is growing strongly in its 84th year.  It’s a bur oak, by the way.  Most of the large trees in this part of the park are bur oaks.  Or as the American Tree Association called them, the “mossycup oak.” It could live 300 or even 400 years.


 

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