By Christy Porter, Managing Editor
The Catalpa (kuh•tal•puh) tree, locally known as the twisted tree, stood sentinel on the corner lot of Main and Myers Streets for many years. Prior to the TCMH and Myers (circa 1954) clinics, the home of Rosella (Williams) and Alba W. Ray, Sr., stood on the property.
Ray family lore, along with numerous other local remembrances, say that the tree was twisted in a tornado. Licking and the surrounding areas were indeed hit by at least two catastrophic tornado outbreaks, one in 1880 and the other in 1917. Both of these events would have been prior to the Ray family moving to their home in 1928, at which time the Catalpa tree was already of a good size and twisted.
Shane Botard, Forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation in Houston, gave some insight into the twisting of the tree, making several valid points. “If the wind was strong enough to twist the tree it would likely have taken the tree down or tore it up; although persistent winds over time could have contributed to the tree twisting,” shared Botard. “Another scenario could have been the tree’s competition for sunlight over time, which could have caused the tree to draw into a twist. It is also possible that the tree twist could have been genetic.”
Catalpa wood is a soft wood and is popular for use in furniture. The tree is fast growing, offers good shade and shelter, bears attractive flowers, and is often used as an ornamental. It is native to warm temperature and subtropical regions. The Northern Catalpa is native to northeastern Arkansas and the lowlands of southeastern Missouri, however it is not indigenous to our area. According to the Arbor Day Foundation one of the attributes of the tree is that it can develop a unique twist in the branches and the trunk.
Photos submitted & by Christy Porter
Regardless of its appearance, the Ray family has many cherished memories of the twisted tree.
Their shared remembrances include:
“sitting in that old catalpa tree’s ‘saddle’ in the front yard of the old house.”
“… the wonderful tree in the front yard with the big green leaves and worms to match.”
“… the twisted old tree out front that I wanted to climb but couldn’t. I must have been 17 or 18 before I climbed that sucker.”
“… a sunny day under the catalpa tree; Mommie (Rosella) would ‘sew’ the leaves with twigs to make us hats.”
“… sitting in the catalpa tree.”
“… whenever I drive by the clinic in Licking – even now – I picture the house on that spot…. I love that the ancient catalpa tree (now gone) still guards the front – a reminder to our family of a sweet memory.”
An exact date of the demise of the tree could not be located, but it was still standing as of 1983, and there are those in the community that still ask about the catalpa tree. The tree no longer stands but a block of the original tree can be seen at the Texas County Museum of Art & History.