Searcy, AR

Explore the tour of trees

Amateur historian makes Web site for arboreal artifacts
By Warren Watkins

The Daily Citizen

The beauty of the town of Searcy, from the banks of the Little Red River to the open spaces of Berryhill Park and the history of Spring Park, have long been known. For many it is the trees that make the town, nestled in the Ozark foothills, unique.

Chird Bobbitt, retired from service with the White County government, is using his high-tech skills these days to share information about Searcy. From his home page, Bobbittville.com, Internet users can click on “Chird’s Stuff” and follow a link to Searcy’s unofficial home page, which in turn leads to a page devoted to the town’s notable trees.

Six of the trees on this windshield tour are found on Bobbitt’s Web page.

Searcy is far from the only White County town with notable trees, with Bald Knob having four state record trees and Rose Bud one.

The courthouse cedar

This tour begins in downtown Searcy with the most visible of Searcy’s outstanding trees.

A favorite of children who like to climb, the tree at the southwest corner of the historic White County Courthouse is the largest deodar cedar tree in Arkansas. Planted in 1939, this tree might be the youngest of those on this tour.

A 127-inch trunk divides into drooping branches, offering a windscreen to the courthouse, shade for the Saturday afternoon pickers-and-grinners who play their folk music under it and a haven for dozens of birds, including woodpeckers.

Measured by the Arkansas Forestry Commission at 67 feet tall and with a 68-foot branch spread, this tree if of a variety that originated in the Himalayas, where they typically grow to triple this size at an altitude of 4,000 feet.

Planted by White County Judge Herbert Moody, the tree’s variety name comes from the ancient Sanskrit name “devadara,” which means “timber of the gods.”

The Lincoln Street oak

For the second tree on the tour, head for the southwest part of town by going one block east of the court square to Main Street and turning right. Head down South Main to Lincoln Ave., also called Hwy. 267, and turn right.

The largest tree in Searcy, a red oak well hidden behind a grove of tall pine trees at 500 West Lincoln, has a 16-foot circumference. Its dozen or so branches, each as big as other trees, can also be seen from the back of the Carmichael Center, near the amphitheater.

The formula for finding an oak tree’s age: Find the diameter (the distance through the middle of the tree trunk from one side to the other in a straight line) by measuring the circumference in inches (which is the distance around the tree’s trunk in a circle) and dividing it by pi (3.1416). Now multiply that answer by four (because one inch of diameter represents four years of growth).

Using that formula, the Lincoln Street oak is 245 years old, give or take years during which weather made it grow faster or slower than 1/4 inch a year.

The Chrisp Street oak

For the next point on the tree tour, continue a very short way to where Lincoln Ave./Hwy. 267 curves south toward Gum Springs. Just in the curve, where the highway intersects with Chrisp Street, another oak tree stands in the yard of a home and has been noticed by many over the years. Its huge circumference, differing from the previous tree, is not in proportion to its height.

The largest oak ever measured was 90 feet in circumference and was over 1,300 years old. King Arthur’s Round Table was made from a single slice of oak and is still shown at Winchester, England. The oldest oaks were thought to be up to two thousand years old.

The Reiff Street sassafras tree

Continuing around the curve on Hwy. 267, go a few blocks and turn left on Reiff Street.

Next to a huge rock at 418 Reiff stands a sassafras tree whose bark is missing on the southwest side, making it look as if it has two or three trunks.

In Louisiana, the leaves of sassafras trees are ground, called file and used to thicken soups and gumbo. In Virginia, the young shoots are used to make beer. In London, England, sassafras tea, called Saloop, was mixed with milk and sugar and sold on street corners.

The Harding quad trees

Continue down Reiff St. and turn left on Pioneer Road. Follow the road, which becomes Elm Street, all the way across Beebe-Capps Expressway and Pleasure Streets and turn right on Center Street. From near the semicircle driveway at the intersection of Center St. and Grand Ave., one can see into the center of the Harding University campus called the “quad.”

This park like area in the center of the campus was originally the focus of Galloway College, which preceded Harding at the location, and the dozens of oak trees have given shade to students on their way to classes since the early 20th century.

Especially notable is double-trunked oak held together with a chain, located in front of Kendall Hall, 150 feet north of the bell tower. Also notable is the huge oak with a 15-foot-high pod almost completely circling its 12-foot trunk, just east of the bell tower.

The trees are hung with Christmas lights in the late fall, a truly inspirational sight.

The Randall House red mulberry

From Harding continue north on Grand Ave., cross Race Street, turn right on Moore St., go nine blocks and look to your left.

From its spot at 1000 E. Moore, a red mulberry tree stands 100 feet west of the former location of the Randall House, northwest of the intersection of Walnut Street and Moore Street.

The log home was torn down in 2006 because it was crumbling and to make room for the extension of the daycare next door. Salvaged timbers will be used by volunteers with the White County Historical Society in its Pioneer Village. Until then, the Randall House was the oldest structure in Searcy; its former site is now behind the playground’s privacy fence.

The tree is the state’s largest mulberry tree, and is erroneously called by some the “hanging tree.” Its girth is 18.75 feet officially and 19.5 feet at chest height.

“The Hanging Tree”

Continue down Moore St. to Moss St. and turn right.

In the parking lot separating the Searcy Municipal Pool from the Searcy Head Start building, formerly the community center, and across the street from Trinity Baptist Church, stands a 20-foot dead stump of an oak tree known to many as “the hanging tree.”

The site of the last legal hanging in White County on April 30, 1886, George W. Carroll was executed there for the murder of his wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Pool Carroll, whom he pushed into a well on their farmstead near Clay.

George was escorted from the downtown jail out of the city limits (which were just a few feet away at what is now Moss Street) on a wagon, sitting on his coffin and waving. He confessed to the murder while standing on the scaffold built under the tree, as a crowd of 3,000 listened and watched as he was hung until dead.

A former reporter and photographer of The Daily Citizen, who asked to remain anonymous, has added a twist to this tree’s tale. He says when the community center was built in the early 1970’s, he was called to take the last photograph of the hanging tree as it was cut down. Later, folks began to call another nearby tree “the hanging tree,” which is the stump now seen.