Location: Waldo Park
This is a traveling salesman story you can tell in mixed company.
The year was 1872, and a traveling salesman was passing through
a rural community way out West. The community was Salem. The
salesman was peddling Sequoia gigantea, Redwoods.
Judge William Waldo bought one and planted it on his property,
which happened to be outside the city limits. The tree and
the town grew, and so did William Waldo's prominence in the
city's affairs. When the time came for Waldo's property to
be platted and taken into the city, the judge's influence
was great enough so he could successfully insist that the
tree be preserved before he vacated his land for a state highway.
And that's how the giant Redwood on the west side of Summer
Street NE, immediately north of Union Street, became, according
to some, the world's smallest park. Various writers and publications
have taken note of the tree's plight in the battle against
the automobile as the adjacent streets were widened and then
paved. At odd intervals through the years, angered motorists
have condemned the ever-spreading Redwood as a traffic hazard
that ought to be chopped down.
To insure that motorists spare the tree, a group called the
American War Mothers moved on Salem's City Council in 1936
to establish the tree as a park. On June 15, 1936, the city
council passed a resolution naming the tree "Waldo Park"
and, although the tree has continued to grow, its roughly
12 by 20 feet of park space (for the tree trunk and a plaque)
still apparently qualifies as the smallest public park by
people who are concerned by things being the biggest of smallest.
One chronicler of the tree's progress noted that it has outlived
one State Capitol and a County Courthouse. It also has outlived
at least one weekly magazine that chanced to slight it. In
1956, the old Saturday evening Post published a story stating
that Mill Valley, Calif., had the smallest public park in
the world. Several Oregon writers were quick to correct this
As the tree grows, Ripleys Believe or Not record for
the "smallest park" was contested. And eventually
the little park space for the big tree became known as the
"Littlest Redwood Park in the World."But one thing
about the tree has never been cleared up, a feat that challenges
selling refrigerators to Eskimos: A traveling tree salesman
doing any business in heavily forested Western Oregon in 1872!
The tree has been designated an Oregon Heritage Tree.
Marion County Historical Society pamphlet on Heritage Trees,
Salem Public Library.
Oregon Statesman, Sunday, November 14, 1971