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Historic Trees

Texas | Features | Texas Historic Trees

The Brazos County Courthouse Cedar

Bryan, Texas

by John Troesser


"Cedar tree, how big it's grown!" - Bobby Goldsboro

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This is not a tree that Joyce Kilmer would've praised - it's not one that the village blacksmith would seek the shade of. It hanged no one - even in effigy. In fact it looks as if it was the nearest tree to a chainsaw demonstration booth at a lumberjack's convention.

Why is it historic? Politics. Why do we write about it? Because like a childhood pet (or a younger sibling) it's so ugly it's cute.

The Bryan Courthouse Cedar is a fine example of arboreal tenacity. Its longevity however is directly tied to its location. If it didn't grow directly in front of the courthouse it would've been a fence post long ago. It has outlived four courthouses so far and we hope it will outlive the one it currently shares space with.
Courthouse cedar in Bryan
The Brazos Courthouse Cedar, September 2001
TE photo
Our story finally begins:

In 1841 when Navasota County (later to become Brazos County) was created, the tiny tree was growing alongside the cabin of Joseph Ferguson, near the Navasota River. This cabin served as the first county courthouse since it was there that the first court convened and where county officials were first elected.

The Ferguson cabin didn't have a floor plan amenable to such a crush of politicians. Many went home imprinted by the belt buckles of their political colleagues. So a new courthouse was planned for a new county seat of government - in Boonville. Politicians were measured and the cabin was built to accommodate their collective girth.

The little cedar missed out on this courthouse and in juvenile bliss added a few growth rings to its trunk back at the Ferguson cabin.

The Texas Congress in 1842 changed the county name from Navasota to Brazos - just to make things difficult for geography teachers.

A frame courthouse was built in 1846 (also in Boonville) and in 1854 we get back to the story of our featured tree. Since the 1846 building had been used from everything from dances to hog-scaldings, they added a second story when they built the new one.

Enter Colonel Harvey Mitchell. The Colonel was called "The Father of Brazos County" by almost everyone. (Except for his children who simply called him Daddy.) The Colonel took it upon himself to have trees and shrubs planted around the new courthouse and went so far as to include the little fellow from the Ferguson cabin who was still in saplinghood.

When Bryan superseded Boonville as county seat in 1866 the tree stayed where it was - gathering strength for future transplanting.

1870 saw Brazos County erecting it's fourth courthouse - on the site where today's current (6th) courthouse stands. Colonel Mitchell had the cedar transplanted again. After 20-some years - the fourth courthouse started showing it's age and civil servants started disappearing from their second story offices. It was found that they were "slipping through the cracks" - literally.

In the early 1890s - they took bids on a new courthouse (the 5th) and an architect named Eugene Heiner won the commission. Heiner designed many Texas Courthouses, although the only one extant is in Hallettsville.
Eugene Heiner's Brazos County Courhouse, Razed
The 1892 (razed) Brazos County Courthouse showing the cedar and the plaque
1939 photo courtesy TXDoT
TX Brazos County Courthouse cedar
The Brazos County courthouse cedar in front of the 1955 courthouse.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January, 2014
TX Brazos County Courthouse cedar
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January, 2014
Plaque for the Brazos County courthouse cedar.
It reads:

This tree has stood at three Brazos County courthouses.
1841 Ferguson Springs, 1843 Boonville, 1892 Bryan.
William Scott Chapter, D.A.R.,
Bryan - 1932.

There is a custom of turning historic trees into gavels upon their death. The inherent brittleness of cedar would prevent this tree from being used for that purpose, but it is entirely possible (especially considering the practicality of Texans) that upon retiring, some future Brazos County Judge might receive a real nice varnished fence post with a small brass plaque.

John Troesser
September 2001 feature

See The Brazos County Courthouse

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