Park Pick: Witness to History
Washington-on-the-Brazos evokes the feeling of early Texas through re-enactors and a historic tree.
By Walt Bailey
Coarse bark reaches skyward as the trunk forks into jagged branches. The texture flows in a purposeful chaos like volcanic lava. We marvel at the fine art that lives in nature, and the history represented by this pecan tree that stands as a silent sentinel over the park.
Sometime around 1830, a pecan fell in the dirt here, near the historic La Bahia Road and ferry crossing. That tree and the Texas republic were born together, here at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site.
“This tree, now known as La Bahia Pecan, still stands today as a living witness to the founding of the republic and all that has happened since,” explains park ranger Scott McMahon.
La Bahia Pecan.
When he began working at the park, McMahon says, he heard that the big tree was very old, perhaps dating back to the Texas Revolution. He was determined to learn more about it for the park’s celebration of Texas’ 175th anniversary in 2011. Tests by the Texas Forest Service not only confirmed that it stood at the time of the founding convention at Washington in 1836, but also revealed that its nearest relatives are in Mexico, more than 900 miles away.
Why is this important?
“It means that the tree’s seed traveled with people along La Bahia Road as the settlement of Texas spurred more and more traffic through early Washing-ton,” McMahon explains. “The tree is not just a witness to Texas history, it’s part of it.”
He encourages visitors to walk La Bahia Road as did his own ancestors and visit the tree to make their own connection to Texas’ founding.
Becky Byers, manager of the park gift shop, says the tree evokes pride in a shared past.
“Both the tree and Texas values took root in the soil of Washington-on-the-Brazos,” she says.
There’s more to experience at the park. The Star of the Republic Museum helps visitors better understand how early Texans lived through the objects they used. The Barrington Living History Farm, home of the Texas republic’s last president, Anson Jones, demonstrates 19th-century Texas as re-created by interpreters working in period clothing.
Barrington Living History Farm.
The visitors center includes the Gallery of the Republic, with exhibits about the founding convention and the now-vanished town of Washington, whose site rests within the park, along La Bahia Road. The park gift shop offers souvenirs, reproductions of historical documents and a large selection of books on history and nature.
The nearby towns of Chappell Hill, Brenham and Independence offer antique shops and more historic sites. After a trip to the park, visitors can even purchase a seedling propagated from La Bahia Pecan to grow their own piece of Texas history. Information on the seedlings can be found at www.birthplaceoftexas.com/PecanSeedlings.htm.
Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site is located between Brenham and Navasota. From Brenham, drive 14 miles east on Texas Highway 105 and turn right on FM 1155. It’s another six miles to the park entrance. For more information, call (936) 878-2214.
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