Time lays claim to
historic cypress trees

Cypress trees for websiteOld-age has claimed one of the two iconic cypress trees in The Grove. The tree was removed last week. A second tree is also showing signs of failing. The city is “watching it closely,” says city staffer, Laura Hoffmeister.

One of the two iconic cypress trees in The Grove on the corner of Main and Marsh Creek was removed last week and the other may follow soon. Arborists deemed both trees in very ill health, rotting from the inside likely because of old age.

No one is sure when they were planted. Estimates put the age of the trees at 100-150 years. The trees mark Block 3, Lot 7 as laid out on the 1857 Clayton town map. Jacob “Jake” Rhine’s Hotel and Saloon was on the site, providing lodging and refreshment to the men who worked in the Black Diamond coal mines over our northeastern hills. Thomas Edison’s “Improved Phonograph” came out in 1888, and the one that belonged to Jake’s allowed patrons to listen to popular songs on wax cylinders for a nickel. The two-story structure was built in the 1870s, and remnants of the basement could still be seen 70 years later.

The cypresses may have stood as farmers and miners came into town to “blow off steam,” with help from saloonkeepers “Buck” Mitchell and George Schwartz. George and his son Otto were fine musicians and directed cornet bands made up of horn players and drummers, playing music for all residents to enjoy.

Or perhaps our cypresses were planted around 1905 – after a fire burned the structure.

Norma Bloching Dempsey’s grandmother remembered the Jake Rhine Dance Hall and Saloon (as she called it), and Norma’s father remembered a brewery and butcher shop at this same location years later.

When Norma was growing up in the ’40s and ’50s, only the ruins of the basement and foundation remained. She and her brother were forbidden to play in this area because their parents were afraid their climbing would cause the old walls to collapse.

Eventually, invasive trees of heaven took root and the walls disappeared. In the 1970s, Clayton residents referred to this corner as “the Morgan Wood Lot.”

Downtown Clayton still has a few trees that have lasted much longer than most of its old wooden buildings: the eucalyptus at the museum parking lot, the palm near the Royal Rooster and the pepper trees at the Clayton Community Church office, for example.

So we bid a fond farewell to the giant that greeted generations of people as they arrived in our town and wait for word on the other old friend.

Debbie Eistetter is membership chair of the Clayton Historical Society and can be reached at tdsb@sbcglobal.net  The Clayton Museum is open 2-4 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays at 6101 Main St. Admission is free.