How Riverside’s parent navel orange tree became public in 1902 – San Bernardino Sun

Exactly 120 years ago, on April 24, 1902, George F. Seger, a Canadian-born real estate agent who also served as the city of Riverside’s superintendent of streets, spent several hours removing soil from around one of the two parent navel orange trees on the old Tibbets estate.

Throughout the day, he bundled the massive root ball into a 5-foot in diameter burlap bundle, and carefully moved the tree from its home of 30 years on Central Avenue between Brockton and Palm, to its new home at the head of Magnolia Avenue.

“It was no small undertaking and it took until nearly midnight to complete the job” remarked the Riverside Daily Press the next day.

What prompted the move?

Eliza Tibbets, who received the two trees about 30 years before, died in 1898. Luther, her husband, was involved in a lawsuit in which he lost his property and spent his last couple of years as a ward of the state, living at the Riverside County hospital until his death in 1900. The person who bought the Tibbets’ property, Lewis Jacobs, died in 1900, and the property went to a trustee named O. Newberg. Concern started to arise about the fate of the trees, and Newberg offered the trees to the city if they would remove them.

On April 10, 1901, the city accepted the offer.

At that point, discussion moved to what should happen to the trees. Suggestions included moving one to a site on 8th Street and Sedgewick, and also moving it to the head of Victoria Avenue. However, members of the Riverside Women’s Club and the Riverside Socorro Club (another women’s organization) suggested that Samuel Evans donate land at the corner of Magnolia and Arlington for a small park to hold the tree. They offered to raise money to improve the park.

“If this can be secured, … in the exact center the tree will be placed and around it low flowers (will be planted) which will make it conspicuous and add materially to the entrance of the avenue,” reported the Daily Press.

Magnolia Avenue started at Arlington Avenue at this time and headed southwest. It wasn’t until 1913 that the section between Arlington and downtown opened.

The matter of moving the tree was settled in December 1901, when Samuel Evans agreed to set aside the small triangle of land. It took a few months to prepare everything, but by April of the next year, 120 years ago, the city’s parent navel orange tree was in a new site at the head of Magnolia Avenue.

Improvements did not end with the planting of the tree. Within a month, George Seger reported that people were stealing leaves from the tree. A fence was soon put up to protect the tree.

The other tree, as we’ve written about before, was planted in the courtyard of the Mission Inn.  However, the city’s tree has a Mission Inn tie. Seger, the man who transplanted it, was married to Sarah Jane Hardenberg, who was Frank Miller’s sister-in-law.

If you have an idea for a future Back in the Day column about a local historic person, place or event, contact Steve Lech and Kim Jarrell Johnson at

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