I love historic trees. Something about the silent status they bring to history: their presence and, in many cases, actual historic purpose.
Recently, while driving out to Joshua Tree in the Southern California desert, I stopped at one such tree that has long captured my fascination, probably because it was planted by an American figure I deeply admire and have written extensively about.
What’s so special about this tree?
In the spring of 1903, then-President Roosevelt made his very first visit to California. The date was May 27th, the place was Riverside. Roosevelt had just arrived in the state that day, and after making speeches in Barstow, Victorville, and Redlands, was approaching Riverside. Despite the very long day, the President stopped his special campaign train at the Pechappa siding near Arlington Avenue, which was several miles away from downtown. By invitation of local businessman Cornelius Rumsey, Roosevelt went on a tour along Victoria Avenue, which at the time was the main corridor for the city of Riverside.
It was on this scenic ride a memorial was laid by Mr. Rumsey that said the following:
“In remembrance of the constant friendship of Queen Victoria for the American Republic this memorial palm was started by Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States of America. May 7, 1903, the gift of a son of the American Revolution of the sixth generation of American ancestry.” And with that, Roosevelt helped plant the palm tree.
An ode to California
Soon after, he arrived at the Mission Inn Hotel and these are some of his remarks delivered that evening: “I have enjoyed to the full getting into your beautiful State. I had read about what I should expect here in Southern California, but I had formed no idea of the fertility of your soil, the beauty of your scenery, or the wonderful manner in which the full advantage of that soil had been taken by man. Here I am in the pioneer community of irrigated fruit growing in California. In many other parts of the country, I have had to preach irrigation. Here you practice it, and all I have to say here is that I earnestly wish that I could have many another community learn from you how you have handled your business. Not only has it been most useful, but it is astonishing to see how with the use you have combined beauty. You have made of this city and its surroundings a veritable little paradise.
“It has been delightful to see you. Today has been my first day in California. I need hardly say that I have enjoyed it to the full. I am glad to be welcomed by all of you, but most of all by the men of the Grand Army, and after them by my own comrades of the National Guard, and I have been particularly pleased to pass between the rows of school children. I like your stock and I am glad it is not dying out.
“I shall not try this evening to do more than say to you a word of thanks for your greeting to me. I admire your country, but I admire most of all the men and women of the country. It is a good thing to grow citrus fruits, but it is even a better thing to have the right kind of citizenship. I think you have been able to combine the very extraordinary material prosperity with that form of the higher life which must be built upon material prosperity if it is to amount to what it should in the long run.”
Can you visit the tree today?
The tree planted by Roosevelt still stands, accompanied by a few other palm trees on a little island at the side of the road. Originally the tree was called the Victoria Palm because many people living on Victoria Avenue were from England, but over time it was renamed the “Roosevelt Palm” after Theodore Roosevelt, and a plaque marks the spot.
If you’re further interested in Roosevelt’s monumental 9-week tour of America in 1903, I wrote an entire book about it.
Safe, happy travels, and see you in the new year!
Read more from Chris Epting here.
Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road-tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks), Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. He is excited to be contributing to RVTravel.com and looks forward to helping to lead you places you may not have discovered otherwise. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com.