West Dallas Gateway Pecan

Pecan, Carya illinoinensis

Located today just outside the Trinity River levees, this historic tree is as old as the city of Dallas, and has sat across the Trinity from downtown at the western end of the Commerce Street bridge since being erected as the first bridge across the river in 1855.

The Story

The West Dallas Gateway Pecan has served for over 175 years as the gateway to West Dallas, sitting today at the west end of the Commerce Street bridge across the Trinity River channel from downtown Dallas. Located on the south side of the intersection with Beckley Avenue, the tree has progressed from seeing the last of the bison herds and their hunters, to cattle drives, stagecoaches, and wagons, to buggies and carriages, and currently, to today’s extensive motor vehicle traffic.

Prior to the arrival of the Bryans, Cockrells, Beemans, Overtons, and other early Dallas settlers, a low-water crossing of the Trinity River was located just east of present-day Commerce Street and Riverside Drive in downtown Dallas. As a sapling, the Gateway Pecan watched over the many trails that converged at this crossing that were used by the bison herds and their Native American hunters. One of these trails headed west from the Commerce Street crossing along what would become the Fort Worth Pike to present-day Cockrell Hill, then following the high ground south through Duncanville, Cedar Hill, and Midlothian toward Austin. This trail was used for the first cattle drives from south and central Texas, connecting to the Old Preston Road trail from the 1840s to the 1860s. This route became known as the Shawnee Trail to the drovers heading north to Missouri and as the Texas Road to the settlers heading south.

From the construction of the first Commerce Street bridge in 1855 to the early 1900s, the Gateway Pecan sat at the junction of the Eagle Ford Road and the Fort Worth Pike. Travelers went northwest at this junction on the Eagle Ford Road to La Reunion, Eagle Ford, and the Trinity River West Branch crossing into present-day Irving. Heading west from the junction was the Fort Worth Pike, the main road between Dallas and Fort Worth during this time period. Heading south from the junction led to Oak Cliff along a road that is known today as Beckley Avenue. The tree sat in the Trinity River floodplain at this time, experiencing major floods in 1866, 1871, 1890, and 1908.

Following the massive 1908 flood, West Dallasite C. W. Heppner helped organize the Trinity River Levee and Drainage Club to adopt plans for channeling the Trinity River and building levees to protect both downtown and West Dallas. Heppner, who founded the Sons of Herman Hall in Dallas, had built a house adjacent to the Gateway Pecan at the corner of the Fort Worth Pike and Beckley Avenue on a lot whose purchase was noted in the Dallas Weekly Herald of 26 July 1883:

“A. C. Berry and wife et. al. to Robert Heppner, 6 acres on south side of Pike Road, one mile west of Dallas, for $430.
Same to William Heppner, 3 acres one mile west of Dallas, adjoining the last mentioned 6 acres on the east, for $250.”

The area around his home flooded so often that Heppner built a pier on the side of his home to aid in evacuation and rescue efforts. His continued writing and lobbying helped eventually lead to the construction of the levees in 1930 and led the German-American community to refer to him as the Godfather of West Dallas. Unfortunately, his flood-damaged home was demolished when the levees were built.

During the planning of the levee system, the Gateway Pecan witnessed Dallas usher in the automobile age. Since West Dallas was not served by public transportation at the time, early taxis called ‘Jitneys’ were used to transport workers between downtown and West Dallas. One such taxi company was the Bilbo Jitney Line whose riders “filled all five seats of a Model-T, sat on the doors; stood on the wide running boards; sat on the fenders; and in sunny weather … sat on the car top and hung their feet over the back of the car” as they crossed the Commerce Street bridge and sped past the Gateway Pecan.

Luckily, the Gateway Pecan sat just to the west of Beckley at the time the levees were built, since all the trees between downtown and Beckley were removed during the construction. However, the tree moved from inside the floodplain to outside, dramatically reducing the amount of moisture and nutrients it received. Although the Pecan started on a steady decline in growth rate and health, the large canopy provided a shady gathering spot for vendors to sell fresh food and handiwork to the local community.

Heading west from downtown Dallas today, the West Dallas Gateway Pecan is the first big tree encountered. Commerce turns into Fort Worth Avenue which is undergoing a major rebirth along with the rest of West Dallas. Along with this growth comes more development and traffic. In 2008, the city of Dallas decided to reroute Beckley Avenue at the Commerce Street bridge intersection. Thanks to the vigilance of city planner Don Raines and the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, the impact on the tree during reconstruction in 2015 was kept to a minimum. Still, the tree has lost three major limbs and experienced multiple impacts from passing vehicles. With a little help, maybe the Gateway Pecan can live to see West Dallas continue to flourish.

The West Dallas Gateway Pecan was dedicated by the City of Dallas, Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, Trinity Park Conservancy, and the Texas Historic Tree Coalition.

On a beautiful April 15th, 2023, the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group and the City of Dallas hosted TxHTC at a ceremony to dedicate the West Dallas Gateway Pecan Tree. In addition to the historic recognition by TxHTC, the Pecan Tree made history again as the first tree to be recognized under the City’s Historic Tree Program. Those present to speak at the ceremony and accept the proclamation and certificate of historical significance were Katherine Homan, president of FWADG, Alexander Troup, local historian, Marion Lineberry, president of TxHTC, Dallas Councilmember and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez, Dallas Councilmember Chad West, Marcus Shropshire, Trinity Park Conservancy, Art Garcia, local artist and plaque designer, and Don Raines, city planner.

Data
Gathered on April 16, 2023
Estimated Age
185 years old
Height
65 feet
Crownspread
45 feet
Circumference
13 feet 0 inches
Contributors

Katherine Homan, Marion Lineberry, Don Raines, M C Toyer, and Alexander Troup

Media coverage:

The Dallas Express

The Dallas Morning News

GreenSourceDFW

Oak Cliff Advocate