A Tree Remains: The Monticello Convention and a Plea for a New Territory

The Monticello Convention Tree: Territorial Convention Witness

It’s often the trees that withstand time and adversity. We stand under them and marvel at what calamities have befallen them, sigh in sympathy at their heavily burdened branches and the scarred-over gashes in their trunks. We understand the trials, and we admire them for their fortitude and try to wrap our heads around the idea that they were right here when a “something” happened. The black walnut tree from the Monticello Convention is one of those revered citadels. It stands where early Oregon Territory settlers stood to draft a second petition to congress asking for a separate territory.

This giant, 169-year-old black walnut stands on the north side of Tennant Way in Longview, Washington, right along with industrial commerce and railroad tracks.  It is all that is left of the Harry Darby Huntington farm and the once town of Monticello. It is a challenge to imagine the time and place of 1852 when Huntington’s farm was near this tree, and the voices of a large group discussing a new territory was on the wind instead of the hum of state highway 432.

Harry Darby Huntington

Two Conventions, One New Territory

Territorial citizens north of the Columbia River felt too distant and far removed from the benefits and support of their territorial government. Travel was long and arduous (an understatement), and a 95-mile trip south to the capital in Salem took a very, very long time. Those who felt they could be persuasive and effective in petitioning for separation and therefore a capital city of their own first met at Cowlitz Landing in Toledo, northward up the Cowlitz River, in 1851. Their goal was to draft their request for Columbia Territory, to exist from the Columbia River north.

Feeling unheard and that congress was not taking action, the people met again, this time at Monticello. Monticello was a new town started at the mouth of the Cowlitz where it meets the Columbia, right about where Huntington’s farm was. It was Huntington who established the town, ran a store, a hotel, river transportation as well as his farm. For 11 years, Monticello was the Cowlitz County seat. The Monticello Convention happened at the Huntington place, near the banks of the river. Unbeknownst to the crowd, congress had already passed an act granting a new territory, Washington Territory. News did not travel fast. The trip between Monticello and Salem was long, but the travel to the nation’s capital to exchange communication was even farther.

The efforts were successful. The settlers north of the Columbia River got their wishes, and things were off and running. Arthur Burbank planted the black walnut tree to commemorate the Monticello convention event. In December of 1867, the Cowlitz River flooded, taking its surrounding banks and Monticello with it. However, the black walnut remained and remains today.

Where can you see it?

If you are driving west on highway 432 into Longview from Interstate-5, keep your eye out on the north side of the highway, the tree stands near the railroad tracks (on private property) and is accompanied by a white wooden sign reading “Monticello Convention.” There is a more detailed, dedicated park site in the city of Longview, that commemorated the historical developments.

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