How Humphrey Parker’s walking stick became the tree in the middle of the road

I received a copy of “The Parker Family Tree: The Parker family of Cass County, Iowa. Its origins and passages” by Mary Rendleman Gilchrist. Congrats to Mary, this is an extremely well-researched and put-together history of the Parker family who is credited with planting the tree in the middle of the road.

An aerial view of the Tree in the middle of the road that sits on the Cass and Audubon county line just north of Interstate 80.

It’s one of Iowa’s most unique attractions and there are several stories about how the tree came about. Here’s the exact Google map location where you can find the Tree in the Middle of the Road.

With permission from Mary, here is an exact copy (mistakes included) of what appears to be a family letter from a trusted source, although the specific author of the letter is not noted.

” Your ever welcome letter got here O.K. also the picture of the old cottonwood tree. There is a little history about that tree. John Parker’s brother, Umphrey Parker, used that tree once for a walking stick. He and John A. Parker was misuring land. Umphrey was cripled in one foot so he cut a young cottonwood sprout down by the little creek northwest , west of where the tree stands now and when they come to the corner where the old tree stands they didn’t have nothing to mark the corner with, so Umphrey sharpened the stick and drove it in the ground with a stone and it sprouted and growed.

So that tree was once Umphrey Parkers walking stick and that has been about 80 years ago oar about that long ago, so that is how that lone cottonwood tree come to grow there, so the old tree has a little story attached to its growth. “

Reprinted with permission from Mary Rendleman Gilchrist in The Parker Family Tree.

This letter indicates that the tree is 80 years old, is that correct?

The tree is 170+ years old. The letter does reference that the tree is about 80 years old, meaning that the letter was written in approximately 1930. It’s believed that the sprout was planted at the time of the surveying, which was believed to be around 1850. As of 2024, the tree is approximately 174 years old.

What’s the best route to visit the Tree in the Middle of the Road?

Although the tree is at the intersection of Nighthawk Ave and 350th Street, I would not recommend letting Google Maps or any other GPS select your directions, as it might send you down a local level B road called Mockingbird Ave then 350th Street. Being a level B road, it means that this path does not receive maintenance and is often filled with ruts, and is a place where you may easily get stuck.

Instead, we recommend getting of I-80 at exit 64. Turn south on 690th Street. The very next intersection south of the Interstate is Boston Road, which is a gravel road. Take Boston Road to the east and travel for about a mile. Turn left on 710th Street, which will take you on a bridge that crosses back over the Interstate. Once you cross the Interstate, the Tree in the Middle of the Road is over the next hill.

Are there stop signs around the tree?

Yes, there are stop signs located in all four locations around the tree.

Has there ever been a car accident at this location? You would think that one fatality would cause them to remove the tree.

We are not aware of any serious car accidents at this location, nor has there been any serious conversation about removing the tree.

Has the story of Humphrey Parker’s walking stick been confirmed by other sources?

No. Local historians have been asked for years whether they could validate any of the stories – and so far, no one has been able to confirm or dispute the story of the walking stick turned Tree in the Middle of the Road.

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    1. It’s sure to be a gem for the family for years to come. It must have been years of research, but it’s so well done.

  1. This is a fun attraction to see plus now know how it came to be. Thanks, Umphrey, for blessing us with such a unique measuring/ walking stick that blossomed and growled – much like Aaron’s staff in Israel.

  2. Weird I have heard it was a John Parker surveyor employed from Adair not Humphrey’s brother John

  3. I came from Seattle and visited the Tree in the Middle of the Road last summer vacation. We have Iowa family that live in the area. Thanks for sharing this. Just makes visiting the tree even better.