The cedar tree on the south lawn of the Brazos County Courthouse has been around longer than Texas has been a part of the United States. Depending on the result of an upcoming Commissioners Court hearing and vote, though, the “Courthouse Cedar” may be in its final days.
At a Tuesday meeting, officials and concerned parties discussed potential plans of action that ranged from installing a support system for the tree to taking it down and using wood from the tree for myriad items throughout the county.
A&M Forest Service staff forester Gretchen Riley and Plant People master arborist Jeff Lehde spoke before the county’s judge and commissioners Tuesday morning to deliver several options for the cedar tree’s future. Both speakers described the tree as a “remnant” of its 19th and 20th century self.
“As you’ve been past the courthouse in the past 20 years, and certainly in the past couple of years, you can see that the tree is in extremely poor health and condition,” Riley said.
“The structural component is what has been compromised,” Lehde said following Riley’s remarks. “There’s decay throughout the trunk, and decay in the base and the root system.”
County Judge Duane Peters said the court likely would discuss and decide on the tree’s future in the next couple of weeks.
“The cedar tree has been around, and it has had a significant impact in the county’s history,” Peters said. “You look at the condition the tree is in today, and I don’t know what the court will do, but to me — and this is one guy’s opinion — it looks like it may be time to use what is left of the tree in some manner.”
According to the Texas A&M Forest Service book Famous Trees of Texas, the tree grew alongside the cabin where Brazos County’s first court convened and where county officials were first elected in January 1841. Texas became a U.S. state in December 1845.
“The tree was but a sapling in January 1841, the book reads, “when the Congress of the Republic of Texas created Navasota [now Brazos] County.”
As the county seat moved from Ferguson Springs to Boonville and then Bryan, county officials at the time moved the 14-foot tree. It moved to Bryan in 1870.
Lehde said a brace pole to help the tree was placed several years ago, but that the post is now also leaning. He said the tree’s foliage is in good condition.
He presented the commissioners with several options:
- Install a support system for the tree.
- Remove it.
- Replace it with a younger cedar/
- Leave it as is.
Another option Lehde presented was that the commissioners could invest in a more permanent fence around the tree. Yellow caution tape and orange cones currently surround the tree, which is on the southwest corner of the courthouse plaza in Downtown Bryan. He said that without some safety radius, the tree’s poor health presents a potential risk to county officials, residents and other passersby.
“Removal is an option,” Lehde continued. “Replacing it is, too. When I was there this morning, there were several hundred small cedars coming up through the mulch — most likely progeny from this particular tree.”
He said that relocating the cedar likely would be the most expensive option.
Henry Mayo, chairman of the Brazos County Historical Commission, and commission member Colleen Batchelor also spoke at the Tuesday meeting. Batchelor and Mayo said following the meeting that creation of a memorial out of the trunk could also be considered by the commissioners court.
“It is something that has been in the county longer than anyone has been alive,” Batchelor said. “With the rapid growth of our community, we lose a lot of our touchstones to the past. The tree is the one of the significant reminders of the long history of this county.”
Following the meeting, Precinct 3 Commissioner Nancy Berry and Precinct 4 Commissioner Irma Cauley also expressed a desire to preserve wood from the tree and feature it throughout the county, if the court decides to remove it — something that all three officials stressed had not been decided.
The county’s commissioners said they are seeking feedback from residents on the options presented by Lehde.
“I think the citizens should express their view about whether any of it’s worth saving and what they think should be done,” Batchelor said.
To contact the county’s judge or its commissioners, visit brazoscountyTX.gov and click on the Government tab. The Brazos County Commissioners Court meets Tuesdays at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the County Administrative Building, located at 200 S. Texas Ave. in Bryan.