By Monika Maeckle
Not everyone ranks having a tree planted on public property in their name. But Judge William Christian Menefee, a Founding Father of Texas, surely does.
Born in Tennessee, Judge Menefee settled in Egypt, Texas, in 1830, midway between San Antonio and Houston. He practiced law, ranched cattle, and became a state delegate from his Colorado County community, getting elected as its first County Judge in 1835. In 1836 he attended a
conference at Washington-on-the-Brazos and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Three years later, he voted that Austin serve as our state capitol. When he died in 1875, Menefee was buried near Flatonia, but his remains were later moved to the State Cemetery in Austin.
His thoughtful descendants planted the tree in his honor in 1930, at E. Ashby near the San Antonio River just north of Josephine St. Half a century later, more Menefees had the tree dedicated to him with a classy stone memorial.
Scoring a “dedicated tree” can be a complicated process if you choose to do so on public property. The procedure can involve a lengthy application, approval from the historic review counsel, a nod from the City Manager, and sometimes permissions from state governing authorities. However, nothing stops you from planting a dedicated tree on your own property and marking an occasion or person for posterity.
Like many mature Live Oaks, the Menefee Tree is wider than it is tall. Its broad 83-foot-plus canopy expresses the classic form of Live Oaks: stout trunks and strong branches supporting a hefty biomass of leaves, branches and sought-after shade. Poised like a still life in its triangular patch of grass just north of the Pearl, it invites drive-by wonder and amazement.
“What I like most about it is that it has this huge protected space,” said Nentwich. “It just goes to show that even in a harsh downtown environment, there’s still space for a big tree.”
Since we know of the tree’s 1930 planting date, we thus know, for the first time in our Heritage Tree series, our subject’s exact age….Well, sort of.
“It’s at least 82 years’ old,” said Nentwich on a recent visit. “But we don’t know how old it was when planted.”
The Menefee Tree
Species: Quercus fusiformas
Height: 35 feet
Canopy: 83.6 feet
Diameter at breast height: 46 inches
Circumference: 12 feet
Age: 82+ years, planted in 1930
Location: At the three-way intersection of E. Ashby, E. Elmira, and River Road, on the west side of the San Antonio River near the Pearl.
Get there by bus: Take Route 9, 10 or 14 get off on Broadway and Josephine, head west on Josephine and turn right on River Road.
Also known as: Encino, Plateau Live Oak or Escarpment Live Oak
NOTES: Diameter at breast height, or DBH, is a standard of measuring tree diameter at four-and-a-half feet off the ground. Regarding the age of trees, arborists and foresters are reluctant to cite them. The only accurate way to determine a tree’s age is with an increment boring test, whereby a hollow drill bit is bored into the tree trunk. Very traumatic for the tree. Since soil and water availability determine tree growth, some trees grow huge in several decades while others live a century and can be much smaller. The tree’s temperament is also a factor.
In short, when it comes to determining tree ages, size doesn’t matter. We will cite educated guesses by certified arborists for the ages of featured trees, unless scientific or historical data are available.
Have a favorite heritage tree? Send us a photo, a story and we’ll consider it for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on San Antonio’s trees:
Monika Maeckle writes about gardening, butterflies, conservation and the Monarch butterfly migration at the Texas Butterfly Ranch. She covers nature in the urban environment for this website. You can reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @monikam.