Dogwood Trails Celebration: 77 Years in the Making
In 1938, two friends shared a casual cup of coffee and from that one of the premier East Texas tourism events was born.
According to the Palestine Herald-Press July 4, 1976 edition, in the spring of 1938, Charles W. Wooldridge, power company manager, and Eugene Fish, bank president, met for coffee and their discussion led to the unusual and unique beauty of the dogwood trees in the area. The two businessmen then agreed that Palestine should have a dogwood trail. Wooldridge knew the idea had legs and ran with it to the newspaper that same day. He suggested inviting out-of-towners to visit and view Palestine’s natural abundance.
An article was carried in a few Texas newspapers and brought over 20,000 visitors that first year. The attendance doubled the second year, and the premier East Texas event had taken off.
M.A. Davey, Sr.
Those first years the trails were rough; routed over uncovered country roads and anywhere that sightseers could see the dazzling dogwoods. Red dust and mud coupled with the unpredictable Texas spring weather convinced trail sponsors that something would have to be done. Soon they discovered an exceptional plot of dogwood trees on hilly land just north of Palestine. Local land owners E.W. and H.R. Link gave the group access to the land so that proper trails could be built.
The first trails were cut crudely; volunteers plowed through underbrush with their cars, then followed behind with axes and hoes. Gullies were filled with dirt shoveled by hand and hauled on borrowed trucks. With that, the Texas Dogwood Trails was routed through the woods, where visitors could enjoy the dogwood trees in a completely natural setting for the first time, in 1941.
During World War II, although not in operation due to gasoline rationing and a federal plea against unnecessary travel, the trails permanency was assured thanks to local oil man, M.A. Davey. The nature-loving benefactor purchased the large central piece of land over which the trails were routed and gave it to Anderson County specifically for a public park.
Over the decades, the Texas Dogwood Trails Celebration has continued to draw thousands of nature lovers and tourists to the Palestine area each spring where businesses and locals wait with open doors and open arms. For several weeks every year, this event highlights the unadulterated natural beauty of Davey Dogwood Park and the Dogwood Trails.
The Legend of the Dogwood
According to online sources, the dogwood tree has taken on symbolic meaning for many cultures. In Christianity, it is said that it was used by the Romans to make the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Legend states that at the time it grew tall and strong oak-like tree. The dogwood was ashamed of its role and begged forgiveness of Jesus, who transformed it to have slender and gnarled branches that could never again be made into a cross. So that this would not be forgotten, he made the dogwood flower into a cross with blood-red stained nail prints at the edges with a crown of thorns in the middle.
Native American legend also gives testimony to the cultural impact of the dogwood. According to Native American folk lore, a powerful chief demanded rich gifts from suitors for his four daughters. The gods were angry with his greedy behavior and turned him into a small tree with low branches that would never grow tall. His four daughters are still attendant in the four petals of the blossom.