Saturday, November 01, 2014

Roots run deep for aging tree thought to be Ottawa’s oldest

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 5/7/2014

The City of Ottawa’s oldest known living tree has seen its fair share of changes, Deb Barker said.

A tree planted by Theodore Sears is thought to have been rooted in the community since the 1860s, Barker, Franklin County Historical Society director, said.

The City of Ottawa’s oldest known living tree has seen its fair share of changes, Deb Barker said.

A tree planted by Theodore Sears is thought to have been rooted in the community since the 1860s, Barker, Franklin County Historical Society director, said.

The tree, a bald cypress, was planted behind the house where Sears lived at 321 W. Third St., Ottawa, she said. The area where the tree is now located is owned by Jimmie Rex and Betty Bauer, whose address is 221 S. Elm St. The Bauers couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Sears was a well-known railroad man at the time the tree was planted and served as a power player in the Franklin County community, Barker said.

“[Sears] was the general superintendent of the southern district of the western line,” Barker said. “Being the general superintendent of the southern district means Santa Fe railroads. The railroads were a big thing back then, so he was very influential.”

Since Sears had some authority in the Katy railroad (Kansas, Missouri, Texas), Barker said, Sears and other Franklin Countians had hopes the Katy railroad would find its way to Ottawa.

“[Sears] thought, and others thought, that Katy would come through Franklin County, but it didn’t and it was kind of a scandal,” she said. “They thought because a general council member was living here that it would bring more railroad traffic to Franklin County, but it avoided Franklin County carefully and went up to Topeka from Osage County.”

The Bennetts were the next family to live where the tree was planted, Barker said, another family that had deep roots and an impact on the county.

“The Bennetts lived there and they owned Bennett Creamery, which was the largest employer in Ottawa for a long time in the 20th century,” she said. “It was a creamery that bought milk from farmers and processed it into Bennett ice cream. They were very well known.”

Some of the Bennetts’ business relics live on in one of the rooms at the Old Depot Museum, 135 W. Tecumseh St., Ottawa, Barker said.

“The soda fountain in the depot has pieces of the Bennett memorabilia,” Barker said. “They made ice cream mix for Dairy Queens in Kansas and Missouri. They also ran Peoples Bank for a long time. Some of Bennett Creamery’s descendants still run Peoples Bank.”

The original houses Sears and the Bennetts lived in have since been replaced, and now is home to a new tenant, Barker said, but the tree remains, growing and forging deeper roots.

“[The house] was an important location, a prominent location and nobody much mentioned the tree, but it’s just moved up and gotten bigger and older,” Barker said. “From the tree’s point of view, I just imagine that it’s just seen extensive growth of the neighborhood around it.”

Dylan Lysen, Herald staff writer, contributed to this report.

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