Black Walnut Trees: A Piece of Local History

Every now and then, the missing piece to a puzzle just kind of falls into your hands.  This is pretty exciting, in and of itself, but it becomes even more exciting when you didn't even realize it was lost!

That's what happened to me on Thursday.  While waiting in line at Walgreen's,  I happened to look over at the newspaper rack.  There it was, staring right at me:

My next blog post.

It was a story in the Daily News that dealt with local history - something I always loved to read in El Paso, so naturally, I was eager to read this.  This one, though, had a bonus that no other historical piece had ever given me:

It had the answer to how something that has become a central focus for me in the present even became an issue in the first place.

Where the heck did all of these black walnuts come from?!

Tons of Black walnuts!

Ok... duh.  They came from trees.  But the trees are everywhere!  You literally can't go anywhere in this city without finding them.  My own yard is filled with them, and I'm constantly pulling saplings from the ground.

There were just too many of them for there not to be a story behind their presence.

And the front page of the Daily News was kind enough to give me this answer.  There is a story behind them, and it's actually a rather nice one.  Yep!  The local newspaper gave me the missing piece to a puzzle that had been nagging my subconscious for quite some time.  Not only that, but it was on the front page.

Sweet!

The article was entitled "THAT'S NUTS: The story behind Faribault's abundance of walnut trees", written by Ashley Klemer.

Talk about convenient!

Even better - The story is green in nature.  It all began with one man that was determined to protect our environment.  Specifically the trees.

C.E. Purdie saw the occurrence of deforestation due to logging that was done in the area.  Black walnut wood is a very sought after material because it's strong, and able to resist the elements far more effectively than many other types of lumber.

The problem, though, was that there didn't appear to be any effort to re-plant what had been taken.

Faribault was losing its trees.  

Purdie decided to do something about it.  He grabbed up some seeds and planted them, deciding that he'd not only try to bring back some of these trees, but also reap the benefit of having lots of walnuts for various recipes.  Hearing about this, other community members gave him even more seeds.  Soon, there were thousands of saplings bursting through the soil.

What the heck do you do with thousands of saplings, though?

Obviously, that's way too many for a single family to care for, so he had a giveaway, and it was a huge success.  The saplings were all gone in only a few hours.

People obviously really liked this decision, so he planted more, and it became an annual occurrence...

Word got around, and soon the saplings were given away to people from here...

to China!

Everything ended about 8 years later, though, when only around 60% of his black walnut saplings found new homes.  He had to plow the remaining young trees under, because, I mean, really...

What else do you do with that many unwanted trees?

One of his sons still continues the tradition, however, planting trees (not just black walnut, thank goodness!) wherever there appears to be need for them:

Areas that lack the wooded growth that should be seen in the region.

My relationship with black walnut trees is very obviously a love/hate relationship.  

I worry about my dog's safety, since he loves them so much, and I worry about my family's safety as I stare up into huge branches that are due to fall at any moment.

fallen branch
Or have already fallen!

But I also recognize their beauty, as well as their uses for dyes, construction, decor, or even their importance as a food source.

And now I have a wonderful history to attach to that.  A beautiful, life-giving, environmentally responsible history that's based on, dare I say, caring for the environment and community?

I imagine what Faribault would look like today if C.E. Purdie hadn't planted these trees that I both love and hate, and I don't like the world my imagination conjures.

It's awfully barren.

We spend so much time learning about the political and military heroes in our regions that we sometimes forget about the quiet, everyday heroes... the ones that make the world better just because they did something incredibly simple...

Like planting that first seed.

Do you know of any peaceful, environmentally responsible history that has made a difference in your community?  Unsung heroes that helped make your home a little more beautiful?

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