OTE - Oregon Travel Experience

Gone but not forgotten – tree memorials

Posted on: November 28th, 2016 in News & Press, Newsletter |

Notable trees that once graced Oregon

There are notable trees aplenty in Oregon, and you may have visited some of them on weekend forays across the state. However, trees have finite lifetimes. They are vulnerable to disease, rot, weather or humankind incidents. While not all of the trees represented in the“tree memorial” are Oregon Heritage Trees, during their lifespans many were beloved in their communities and by tree aficionados.

We will be adding more “gone but not forgotten” trees below, as the Oregon Heritage Tree Committee unearths more contenders. If you would like to tell us about a tree (or trees) that had a vital connection to Oregon history, please contact us.

Silverton Oak Tree

Silverton’s Old Oak Tree was once a very large oak tree. Early Silverton pioneers developed the townsite around the tree, which stood for many years at the intersection of Main and First streets in downtown Silverton.  The tree was felled in the 1880s as Silverton grew in size. Its large branches were divided amongst the townspeople.

Homer Davenport lamented the passing of the tree in his book “Country Boy.” The stump of the oak tree was unearthed during street excavation work in 1966.  The stump was preserved and now rests beneath a special gazebo in a park next to the Silverton Country Historical Society (428 S. Water St, Silverton), not far from where it once grew. (*Image courtesy of Silverton Country Historical Society)

Sheepshooter Tree

The Sheepshooter Tree, a Western Juniper, was a gathering spot for cattlemen engaged in the Sheepshooters’ War, a range war that took place in Central Oregon between 1895 and 1906. Some local cattlemen were opposed to sharing the open range with sheepherders and so organized themselves into militias intent on killing the sheep – and sometimes the men – that ventured onto the range. Some 10,000 sheep were shot by the Sheepshooters throughout the war, and several people died in associated gunfights and other actions. The tree was located on Wolf Creek, northeast of Paulina, in Crook County.  The tree was struck by lightning several years ago, burning up in its entirety. (*Image courtesy Bowman Museum in Prineville)

“Klondike Kate’s” petrified stumps

“Klondike Kate” Rockwell, a colorful resident of Central Oregon during the early 1900s to the 1950s, was an avid rockhound. One day during a windstorm at her homestead in the High Desert region, two petrified wood stumps were revealed. The stumps were remnants from an ancient sequoia forest that would have thrived in the region thousands of years ago, when the area was dominated by large lakes.

After Kate relocated from her homestead to Bend, she arranged for the petrified stumps to be hauled into Bend. At the time, the Bend Bulletin pegged the stumps to be in excess of 20,000 years old. The stumps were presented to the firemen of the city and were installed near their downtown station by a memorial fountain. When the fire station was later relocated, the stumps were gifted to the City of Bend who installed them in Drake Park.  They remain in Drake Park to this day. (*Image courtesy Nate Pedersen)  Learn more about Klondike Kate Rockwell.

Mammoth Sugar Pine

The Mammoth Sugar Pine formerly stood in a grove of large, old-growth sugar pines along Highway 62, between Prospect Ranger Station and Union Creek, in the Rogue River National Forest.  The stand of pines was once considered “the greatest stand of sugar pine in the world,” and an interpretive center was installed nearby to inform tourists traveling through the region about the massive trees.

The Mammoth Sugar Pine was the giant among giants, standing at 224” tall, with a girth of 7’11.”  By the time the tree succumbed to bark beetles in 1966, it was over 300 years old. The other mature sugar pines met a similar fate in the original stand, and the interpretive center eventually fell into disuse.  Scattered large sugar pines can still be found today in sections of the Rogue River National Forest. (*Image of vintage postcard—from the collection of Nate Pedersen)

Abernethy Elm

The Abernethy Elm tree was an American Elm (Ulmus americana) planted by Anne Abernethy, the wife of Oregon’s first and only provisional governor, George Abernethy, next to their home on the east bank of the Willamette River in what is today, Oregon City, Clackamas County. The elm, planted in 1850, grew to a very large size, and became a state landmark. The tree was witness to the development of Oregon and survived repeated flooding of the Willamette River, the construction of Highway 99, and the growth of Oregon City. A planned bridge for Interstate 205 was moved slightly south of the tree in order to preserve the elm in the 1960s. The tree finally succumbed to old age in 2001.

An Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana) has been planted nearby to commemorate both the Abernethy Elm and the opening of the Willamette Terrace and Jon Storm Park in 2010.  (*Image courtesy of the Clackamas County Historical Society)

Judge Shaw Christmas Tree

The Judge Shaw Christmas tree, a Norway spruce (Picea abies) was thought to be the first living Christmas tree in the United States. The tree was planted in 1882 on the grounds of the Marion County Courthouse in Salem, Oregon, by Judge T. C. Shaw. By 1913, the tree had reached a height of 40 feet and was conscripted by a burgeoning electric company in Salem to be lit up as a public Christmas tree. After some research, the local civic organization boasted that it was the first live (uncut) community tree in the United States.

The lighting of the Judge Shaw Christmas tree became an annual event for the Salem community until 1951. By that time, the tree had reached a height of 72 feet and was becoming difficult to decorate. Expansion plans for the county courthouse led to the tree being cut down in 1952. (*Image courtesy of the Willamette Heritage Center.)