Margo Goodwin didn’t set out to become the Highland Park mayor who took the Big Pecan tree down. The timing just worked out that way.
“Mother Nature knows when it’s time, and that tree knows it can no longer support that canopy,” the mayor told journalists at Town Hall a few days before Preservation Tree Service would begin cutting down the landmark.
Goodwin said her predecessor, Joel T. Williams, had reached out to let her know he regretted that removal of the town’s 150-year-old-plus landmark tree would come on her watch.
Ronnie Brown, the former director of town services who worked for the town for 42 years, told her, “I’m glad I’m retired and won’t have to oversee that process,” she said.
“We will have new traditions with a new tree.” -Mayor Margo Goodwin
Goodwin expected the process to take three days, but after just one, a stump remained at the site that began serving in 1927 as the focal point of what has become known as the oldest Christmas tradition in Dallas County.
The annual lighting, held at 6 p.m. the first Thursday in December, will go on, the mayor promised. This year, the celebration comes on Dec. 5.
“We will have new traditions with a new tree,” she said.
Well, not exactly new. The town plans to light an adjacent big pecan that’s not even half as old and not yet as large as the 75-feet by 75-feet the great monarch reached before its decline. The replacement tree – called the “sister tree” by some – shares the DNA of the old pecan.
Someone had the foresight to graft part of the old tree many decades ago, Goodwin said.
“I was 10 years old when they planted that one,” Dale Cole Jenkins said. “The year was 1951.”
Jenkins identified herself as a descendant of Joseph Cole, the Civil War veteran who saved the pencil-thin sapling he had just plowed over because he’d seen too much death already.
She and her son, Becker Demming, came out to Armstrong Parkway and Preston Road in October, to watch and photograph their “family tree” come down and see its wood hauled off.
“It was hard, but I didn’t shed one tear,” she said.
Jenkins is glad that Urban Timber Harvest will mill, kiln-dry, and store the recovered lumber for commemorative uses to be determined later by the Town Council.
“This way, the tree lives on,” she said.
It took four men almost a week to decorate the old tree with more than 5,000 lights, according to hptx.org.
Kathleen Stewart, in her first year as director of town services, wasn’t sure what it would take to prepare the sister tree for Christmas.
“We may not know until we fully light it the first time,” she said.
Goodwin expects residents to turn out as usual.
“When I go to the tree lighting each year, I meet people whose grandparents have been there, whose parents have been there, little children,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful way to kick off the holidays.”