City Tree
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Hurricanes decimated Nederland ‘city tree’

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from the Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday March 20, 1999.

NEDERLAND -- Whenever we think of an "official" tree or flower, one usually considers that of a state tree or flower, such as the Texas bluebonnet or pecan tree. However, Nederland once had a "city tree" long before it had a city; in fact, several months before any Dutch immigrants arrived.

Being offspring of Kansas City Southern Railroad, even the very existence of Nederland and Port Arthur was once very "iffy." In 1894, while riding horseback south of Shreveport, Jacques Nolthenius, the railroad’s Dutch right-of-way agent, had no problem buying land until he reached the Cameron Parish boundary, south of Lake Charles.

The cattlemen of that parish refused to sell him any land since they did not want the railroad’s "iron horses" scaring their cattle. Although the railroad probably could have won a lawsuit, it chose instead to build west into Texas.

The railroad did much of its planning for Nederland at one of its subsidiaries, Port Arthur Experimental Farm, where horticulturists tested many varieties of rice, as well as other plant life and domestic animals. They also chose the umbrella china tree for the front lawns of the Dutch immigrants, who were soon to arrive. One source of March 18, 1897 noted:

"...That Arthur Stilwell overlooked no possibility is evident in the farm’s adoption of the umbrella china as the ideal shade tree for the Dutch immigrants’ front lawns. A thousand seedlings for transplanting at Nederland were awaiting the arrival of the human transplants from Europe..." (East Texas Historical Journal, XIII, No. 2)

Had the railroad waited until Sept. 13, 1897, when a hurricane killed ten persons at Port Arthur, the farm might have chosen a different variety of tree.

Nederland’s umbrella china trees had just matured when the hurricane of Aug., 1915 arrived, uprooting nearly all of them. Apparently enough remained to produce a second crop, that had also matured by 1935. And when the hurricane of 1938 hit here, it blew down all the remainder of Nederland’s chinaberry trees, including five large trees at my mother’s home.

The passing of the umbrella china also meant the loss of ammunition for a student’s "pea shooter." It was not uncommon to see a chinaberry hit a school blackboard with sufficient force to shatter the chinaberry.

Such a toy was made from a short piece of elderberry limb, which has a hollow interior that had to be lubricated with butter. When a 3/8-inch dowel pin ‘plunger’ was inserted, it could propel a chinaberry sufficient to sting, but not create a wound.

However, one might have a real problem locating any chinaberries around here anymore. Thanks to that second hurricane, our "city tree" is about extinct in Nederland.

W. T. Block of Nederland is a historian and author. His website is http://block.dynip.com/wtblockjr/. This database is very large (350 articles) and is intended as an area history source for students.

Copyright 1998-2012 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, the material published on this site is copyrighted by William T. Block.
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