Boat-Landing Cottonwood R.I.P.

Historical Period: Colonial Texas (1821-1835)
Historical Topic: Frontier Settlements, Stephen F. Austin
Species: Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
County: Austin
Public Access: No longer applicable; tree is dead

At the foot of what was then the Commercio Plaza in San Felipe de Austin, on the west bank of the Brazos River, stood the sole survivor of a group of large eastern cottonwood trees that played a part in the development of the capital of Stephen F. Austin's colony.

In laying out his town, Austin followed the plaza plan of most Mexican towns. The first of four plazas, beginning at the river, was the Commercio Plaza, where riverboats loaded and unloaded their cargoes of passengers and goods. To the boats, these trees were important in docking. About two blocks south was the Constitution Plaza, where government and religious buildings were located. South of this was the Military Plaza, where troops were housed and a magazine was located. To the east was the Hospicio Plaza, adjacent to the hospital. These plazas formed the heart of San Felipe de Austin and from them ran streets to the residential areas.

One of the more celebrated boats that frequented San Felipe de Austin and moored to this historic tree in the Commercio Plaza was the steamboat Yellowstone, which served Sam Houston and the Texan Army during the fight for independence.

Although this venerable tree had been badly damaged by fire and its once stately crown was destroyed, it clung to life for decades as tenaciously as those early Texans clung to their desire for liberty. It was finally removed in 1974 when its remains became hazardous to visitors.

The Boat-Landing Cottonwood was located in what is now Stephen F. Austin State Park, about half a mile north of the present town of San Felipe.