The student news site of Argyle High School

The Talon

The student news site of Argyle High School

The Talon

The student news site of Argyle High School

The Talon

Lighting Up Holiday Joy

How a Local Tree Became a Community Celebration
+Jan+Deatherage+and+Barbara+Nunneley+standing+in+front+of+their+light+up+Pecan+tree+in+Bartonville%2C+Texas%2C+taken+on+Dec.+19%2C+2023.
©The Talon News | Christian Cockrell
Jan Deatherage and Barbara Nunneley standing in front of their light up Pecan tree in Bartonville, Texas, taken on Dec. 19, 2023.

As the temperatures drop and the sky over Bartonville darkens, locals gather in front of a Pecan tree patiently waiting. Finally, when it hits 5:30 P.M. the area suddenly is bathed in a bright light that shines from a tree coated with Christmas lights. Silence settles over the group as they stare into the light from the tree. Every holiday season Barbara Nunneley and Jan Deatherage’s 150-year-old Pecan tree is decorated for the holidays. The tree shines a bright light blue from the more than 65,000 LED lights wrapped in the tree. The tree lighting began sixteen years ago and is lit up on the evening of Thanksgiving, and lasts until the night of Jan. 6. 

“It really now is an annual ritual,” Nunneley said, “The mayor was here the other day, all our neighbors know it’s coming, and they structure their holidays to make sure they all park, and come up, and take their pictures.”

Each year Nunneley and Deatherage have Bill Rathburn, from the Christmas Light Company in Dallas, come out and install the lights in the Pecan tree. It would take a crew with bucket trucks and ladders one to two days to fully install the lights, then run a cord, which is weatherproofed and staked down, to plug into an outlet on the home. Over the years of the tradition the tree which is locally known as the “Bartonville Tree,” gets more and more visitors to view the tree and has become an annual tradition for local families. 

“My father had a very large personality, he had this habit of making giant art out on our ranch in Montague County,” Nunneley said.

The Bartonville Tree began as a celebration of the life of Earl Nunneley, Nunneley’s father, who at the time had been fighting cancer for the past fifteen years. The tree was a nod to the Running N Ranch Art Park, a giant and unique art collection created by Earl outside of Saint Jo, Texas at the intersection of FM 677 and FM 3206. 

“That’s what the tree was going to be, the send-off,” Nunneley said, “Everybody knew, he knew we all knew the end was coming, just didn’t realize it was coming that fast.”

The week before the family gathered at Nunneley’s ranch in Bartonville for Thanksgiving, Earl Nunneley turned for the worse. He and Nunneley’s mother had to stay back at home and couldn’t make it to the family gathering. The family had to light the tree without Earl Nunneley and Nunneley’s mother. When the tree shone for the first time the whole family stood silent, staring into the light in reflection of the life of Earl Nunneley. Shortly after, Earl Nunneley passed after his fifteen-year battle with cancer. 

“By the time everybody was ready to leave, there were dozens and dozens of cars parked, and we were so wrapped up in doing it for him and the family, I hadn’t really thought beyond that,” Nunneley said.

Barbara Nunneley’s Pecan tree in Bartonville, Texas light up for the holiday season, taken on Dec. 19, 2023. (©The Talon News | Christian Cockrell)

That’s when the Bartonville Tree truly took its place in the community. Over the years, the tree took on its own meaning to each person who saw the tree. A running joke developed over the years with one of Nunneley’s neighbors’ sons, that the Bartonville Tree is “his tree,” because he grew up with the tree shining through his window each year. The Bartonville tree also sparked something in a family’s son who had autism. His mother would bring him to the tree every day it was lit up for years, and continue to visit the tree annually. 

“People look at it and they go into their head about what they are emotionally feeling, about Christmas, the world,” Deatherage said. “Especially after COVID-19,  everybody was really happy we put it up; Things were so sad, and times were so hard, and we lost so many people.”

Even as the world was struck by the COVID pandemic, wars, and the mental pressures of all these events, the Bartonville Tree continued to shine through it all; giving hope to the local community. The tree created a space for locals to gather safely during the height of the pandemic, to put aside politics, and bond over a special tradition to Bartonville. The public showed their gratitude to Nunneley and Deatherage through sending notes, postcards, letters, wine, and even unique gifts.

“Meredith brought [the book] earlier this year, in Feb. or March, and rang the doorbell and said: ‘We all got together and put this book together,’” Nunneley said.

Meredith Butterfield, a local from Flower Mound, helped organize photographers of the tree to create a special book called “The Gift” for Nunneley and Deatherage. The book contained photos of the Bartonville Tree from every photographer who contributed to the book, and quotes from local residents of what the tree means to them and their families. Each photo was taken from a unique view of the tree, with its different angles and backdrops of Texas sunsets and nights. 

“The tree isn’t symmetrical all the way around, it’s different,” Nunneley said, “A little bugle here, a little bump here, and you see it from this angle, but not from over there, and so it’s totally different.”

Each angle of the tree gives the viewer a totally different perspective from the other angle, allowing the tree to always be interesting no matter where one stands.

“Mike [a neighbor to Nunneley] relayed to us, he called because he was pretty excited, and he said ‘I got this pilot up there and he’s going, what are those lights down there?’” Nunneley said.

The Bartonville tree even began to make an impression on passengers flying into DFW International Airport. One of Nunneley’s neighbors worked at the Federal Aviation Administration controlling flight paths. When the tree was lit he began sending planes over Bartonville to view the tree from above, As the passenger plane flew over, the pilot would tip their wings giving passengers a unique view of the tree.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of cars that come by: kids, older people, families, and so it’s really the Bartonville tree if you ask anybody,” Nunneley said.

The Bartonville Tree is open to the public for viewing, and lights up at 5:30 P.M. and shuts off at midnight. There are two ways one can view the Bartonville tree, one way is along the scenic drive off McMakin Road, and the other way is parking on Barrington Hill Boulevard and viewing the tree from the fence. Barrington Hill Boulevard is a residential road and to be respectful, turning off your car lights, and turning around at the end of the road is highly recommended.

“It really became an annual event for Bartonville,” Nunneley said, “It began for our family, but it surpassed that after a year.”

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About the Contributor
Christian Cockrell, Writer/Reporter
Christian Cockrell is a reporter for The Talon News and is in his first year on staff. Along with being a reporter for The Talon News, he participates in Argyle Theatre and is a part of the National Honors Society. Outside of school, Christian has a passion for the environment, gardening, and the local community. He enjoys thrifting, listening to music, and being around friends.
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