Margaret’s City of Trees

On Jan. 17, 1957, in her regular newspaper column in the Olympia News, “Words About Birds and Flora,” Margaret wrote:

“Since very early days Olympia has been a city of trees, of tree lovers too. Many of our early settlers came here from the far East and brought with them memories of village squares and streets shaded by the stately vase-shaped American elm. My father who came here in 1867 said, even then, that Olympia looked like a New England town. Main Street, as Capital Way was called at that time, was lined with big-leaf maples and set between them were huge bushes of sweet briar roses, the latter brought here by the first Scotch pioneers.”

Her remarks were part of a campaign just beginning then to plant trees on the main streets of Olympia and restore some of the grace and serenity of the pre-automobile city. The historic street trees of Olympia had gradually been lost to street widening and other developments and were sorely missed by citizens like Margaret who had known the “old Olympia” of slower-paced days. No one spoke then of “eco-services” that trees performed, or of climate change, or any other of today’s concerns, but there was a strong feeling of something important having been lost and of the need to restore something of the beauty and connection to the natural world that trees so nobly represented.

Olympia City Mayor, Amanda Smith, duly convened a committee of which Margaret was a leading member to design and implement a tree planting program. The committee enthusiastically enlisted school children as active partners. Many classrooms featured “money trees” where children could affix their pennies and dimes in a glittering display to help fund the acquisition of trees. The Chamber of Commerce, many local service clubs, the Olympia Audubon Society, and others all pitched in to support this civic betterment effort. By March of 1957, the plan to plant seventy trees on Capitol Way had blossomed, from the edge of the Capitol Campus on 14 Street to the new bridge over the freeway on 25th.  A ceremonial planting began the work, with dignitaries and committee members present, Margaret among them.  Soon fifty red maples and twenty red hawthorns transformed that section of the city’s main thoroughfare.

Those particular trees have succumbed over the years since then, but the tradition of planting a canopy of trees along Capitol Way and other main streets has endured. Thank you, Margaret, and all who have carried on the program all these years. Olympia is still a city of trees. And tree lovers.

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