Tree at Historic Washington State Park Earns Champion Status

Zoie Clift


In 1997 the Arkansas Famous
and Historic Tree Program (AFHTP) was established to create awareness for historic
trees in Arkansas. The program has two goals: education and preservation. The
organization also runs the Arkansas’ Champion Tree Program, which recognizes
the largest tree in each species.

According to Lynn Warren,
landscape architecture specialist with Arkansas State Parks, a tree at Historic
Washington State Park
in Washington,  the “Mail Carrier Smith Catalpa” (#22), is now the state
champion Southern Catalpa. (Catalpa bignonioides for all you biologists out

She sent details on the
history of the tree, which are as follows. John H. Smith came to Hempstead
County in 1824 when he was seven years old. In 1831, when he was 14, Smith
carried the mail 180 miles on horseback from Washington, Arkansas to
Natchitoches, Louisiana. It required ten days for the roundtrip and he made two
trips each month. On his mail route, he stopped at a catalpa tree hedge growing
along the Red River. He filled his pocket with the winged seed from this tree
and when he got to Washington, he scattered the seed over the land where the 1836
Courthouse was built. As “Johnny Catalpa-seed”, he introduced the Southern
Catalpa to the area. He told his story to the Southwest Press in 1883 when he
was 66 years old. He also gathered Bois d’arc fruit when he as 26 years old to

This particular tree is
believed to have been 173 years old in 2004 when it was nominated. It is on the
east side of the Boyette House (c. 1927) property which is the land directly
west of the 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse. This Catalpa tree species has a
broad and spreading form and is very picturesque. The above photo of the tree was taken by
Chuck Haralson. For information on other famous and historic trees in the state, click here. 

Join the Conversation