“Perhaps nature is our best assurance of immortality.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
Residents wishing to plant a tree in honor or memory of a special person or event may participate in the Witness Tree program, which is both a memorial program and an adopt-a-tree program that provides a way to commemorate special occasions while also enhancing our urban forest.
Vancouver’s Original Witness Tree
In 1846, first settlers Amos and Esther Short established the cottonwood at the foot of Main Street as Vancouver’s Witness Tree when they recorded their land claim in which the description read, “Begin at the Balm of the Gilead tree….”
The tree stood witness to the rich history of our region:
- The proud cottonwood overlooked the peace pipe meeting of local Native American chiefs early in the early 1800s.
- It was known to be the landing point of the Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders around 1824.
- General O.O. Howard fixed the military post survey lines with the Witness Tree at its southwest corner.
- Surveyors who tracked the southwestern portion of Washington State drove a copper stake into the tree, anchoring it even more firmly into our history.
Reigning over the booming downtown section of Vancouver, the Witness Tree’s trunk grew to be five feet in diameter and the crown spread 50 feet at a height of 75 feet. In 1909, with major portions of the river bank washed away by consecutive spring run-offs, the tree gradually leaned out over the water until it could no longer fully support itself. Anchored to the shore by a portion of its trunk and root system, it managed to hold on for two more years.
Then on June 29, 1911, the tree tore loose and disappeared downstream. Up until this times, scores of sightseers visited the tree and took away branches and bark as mementos. Pieces found their way into City Hall, the Public Library and the State Historical Society and were even carved into gavels. Many visitors planted branches in the ground that took root. It is assumed that “children” of this historic tree abound in the Vancouver urban area.
Now you can be a part of this history by planting a Witness Tree that will be cataloged into the future.
Current Witness Tree Inventory
Browse the map below to learn more about Vancouver’s Witness Trees. By participating in the Witness Tree program, you can add your own tree to the inventory.