As a young girl, Patricia Essa Purcell Bagnall would walk with her grandmother on Lakeside Drive to fill jugs with artesian water and listen to tales of the “early days.”
Those tales included the story of Joseph Cole, the Civil War veteran who saved the pencil-thin sapling that would grow to become a beloved landmark — The Big Pecan Tree on Armstrong Parkway and Preston Road, now scheduled for removal next week.
Bagnall, Cole’s great-granddaughter, said the tree has always represented the Christmas season — a sign of the holiday’s approach.
“I remember riding down Preston Road in early December as the lights were being placed on the tree and knowing soon the lights would be glowing and Christmas was coming,” Bagnall said.
She kept the tradition by bringing her children and grandchildren to see the majestic tree.
Jamie and Anita Bagnall, Cole’s great-great-grandchildren first heard about the tree from their mother and grandmother Louise Cole Purcell.
“Joseph had just returned from the Civil War, and the impact of what he saw during the war inspired him to save the sprouting tree. I am sure people probably thought he was a little eccentric for growing a tree in the middle of his fields,” Jamie said.
Anita sees the tree as a free spirit given a second chance. “I think the times were so different then that life, even of a tree, was important to save.”
“I feel lucky that I was here to enjoy the tree and the pleasure it brought to the crowds. It served the community well.” -Patricia Essa Purcell Bagnall
For her, the tree symbolizes her family and its roots in Dallas history.
“It’s quite an honor to be related to someone connected to such an iconic landmark,” Jamie said.
But as a young man, he rarely shared his connection. “I guess I felt like it would be bragging to tell my friends in high school that I was related to the original landowners of what is now Highland Park.”
He is proud the tree has brought so much joy to others, especially his children. “It became a family tradition to load up, drive to Highland Park to look at Christmas lights and always end at the pecan tree.”
Anita often brought her special needs students to see the tree and wrote about it in school essays. Likewise, Jamie’s son, Austin Bagnall, recently featured the tree in a school project about family heritage.
“It has given people years of enjoyment and memories, of seeing it at Christmas or picking pecans fallen from its branches,” Anita said.
They hope a nearby tree, believed related to the historic monarch pecan, will take its place of honor and serve generations for years to come, Patricia said.
“I feel lucky that I was here to enjoy the tree and the pleasure it brought to the crowds,” she said. “It served the community well.”