On May 11, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in the town of Felton, California to take a train from the “Big Trees Station”, which is now part of the “Roaring Camp Railroads”, to the beach town of Santa Cruz. Residents of Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek and Felton greeted the president at the Big Trees Station soon after the president saw redwood trees for his first time ever.
When Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Santa Cruz, he spoke with spoke with Josephine Clifford McCracken, who was a former U.S. Civil War nurse, an author, a journalist for the the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper and one of the founding members of the Sempervirens Club; which was an advocacy group for the preservation of redwood trees.
The Sempervirens Club held their first meetings in the late 1800s.
The club has various members, including the American poets Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, a U.S. Civil War veteran who wrote, “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Creek Bridge”, and Jack London, an author and a radical social activist who wrote “The Call of the Wild”.
During Theodore Roosevelt’s trip he observed hundreds of advertisements placed on the ancient redwoods. Theodore Roosevelt scraped his original speech and instead gave two speeches, to the citizens, calling for the preservation of Redwood forests.
First Address at Santa Cruz, California:
Mr. Mayor, and you my fellow citizens. I thank you for the greeting that you have extended to me. I wish to say a word of special acknowledgment to the men of the Grand Army, to the representatives of the pioneers, to the men who proved their loyalty in the supreme test from ’61 to ’65, and to the pioneers who showed the same qualities in winning this great West that you of the Civil War showed in your feat. I also wish to say how pleased I am to have had as my escort the men of the Naval Militia. The one thing on which this country must forever be a unit is the navy. We must have a first-class navy. A nation like ours, with the unique position of fronting at once on the Atlantic and the Pacific, a nation forced by the mere fact of destiny to play a great, a mighty, a masterful part in the world, cannot afford to neglect its navy, cannot afford to fail to insist upon the building up of the navy. We must go on with the task as we have begun it. We have a good navy now. We must make it an even better one in the future. We must have an ample supply of the most formidable type of fighting ships; we must have those ships practiced; we must see that not only are our warships the best in the world, but that the men who handle them, the men in the gun turrets, the men in the engine rooms, the men in the conning towers, are also the best of their kind. I think that our navy is already wonderfully good and we must strive to make it even better.
I am about to visit the grove of the great trees. I wish to congratulate you people of California, people of this region, and to congratulate all the country on what you have done in preserving these great trees. Cut down one of these giants and you cannot fill its place. The ages were their architects and we owe it to ourselves and to our children’s children to preserve them. Nothing has pleased me more here in California than to see how thoroughly awake you are to preserve the monuments of the past, human and natural. I am glad to see the way in which the old mission buildings are being preserved. This great, wonderful, new State, this State which is itself an empire, situated on the greatest of oceans, should keep alive the sense of historic continuity of its past, and should as one step towards that end preserve the ancient historic landmarks within its limits. I am even more pleased that you should be preserving the great and wonderful natural features here, that you should have in California a park like the Yosemite, that we should have State preserves of these great trees and other preserves where individuals and associations have kept them. We should see to it that no man for speculative purposes or for mere temporary use exploits the groves of great trees. Where the individuals and associations of individuals cannot preserve them, the State, and, if necessary, the nation, should step in and see to their preservation. We should keep the trees as we should keep great stretches of the wildernesses as a heritage for our children and our children’s children. Our aim should be to preserve them for use, to preserve them for beauty, for the sake of the nation hereafter.
I shall not try to make any extended address to you. I shall only say how glad I am to be here, bid you welcome with all my heart, and say how thoroughly I believe in you, and that I am a better American for being among you.
Roosevelt’s Second Address at the Big Tree Grove:
Mr. Mayor, and ladies first, and to the rest of the guests in the second place. I want to thank you very much for your courtesy in receiving me, and to say how much I have enjoyed being here. This is the first glimpse I have ever had of the big trees, and I wish to pay the highest tribute I can to the State of California, to those private citizens and associations of citizens who have cooperated with the State in preserving these wonderful trees for the whole nation, in preserving them in whatever part of the State they may be found. All of us ought to want to see nature preserved; and take a big tree whose architect has been the ages, anything that man does toward it may hurt it and cannot help it; and above all, the rash creature who wishes to leave his name to mar the beauties of nature should be sternly discouraged. Take those cards pinned up on that tree; they give an air of the ridiculous to this solemn and majestic grove. (Applause.) To pin those cards up there is as much out of place as if you tacked so many tin cans up there. I mean that literally. You should save the people whose names are there from the reprobation of every individual by taking down the cards at the earliest possible moment; and do keep these trees, keep all the wonderful scenery of this wonderful State unmarred by the vandalism or the folly of man. Remember that we have to contend not merely with knavery, but with folly; and see to it that you by your actions create the kind of public opinion which will put a stop to any destruction of or any marring of the wonderful and beautiful gifts that you have received from nature, that you ought to hand on as a precious heritage to your children and your children’s children. I am, oh, so glad to be here, to be in this majestic and beautiful grove, to see the wonderful redwoods, and I thank you for giving me the chance, and I do hope that it will be your object to preserve them as nature made them and left them, for the future.
After Theodore Roosevelt’s addresses to the Santa Cruz residents, he took a train from Union Station to San Jose to meet Josephine McCracken’s friend Andrew Putnam Hill, a man who was instrumental in the creation of the Big Basin State Park in Boulder Creek, California.
After President Roosevelt’s trip to the Santa Cruz Redwoods forest in California he became more adamant in establishing national parks and in preserving the ancient redwoods from loggers.
Utility box art outside of Roaring Camp Railroads, by the Felton Bible Church, pays tribute to Theodore Roosevelt’s visit first visit to the redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and to the towns of Felton and Santa Cruz.