Bicycle Tree at Snohomish (1890-1927) -- A Slideshow

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 3/30/2008
  • Essay 8526

This slideshow presents the vintage postcard collection of Peter Blecha on the enormous and curious "bike tree," located in Snohomish County within what is now Snohomish city limits. The slide show was written and curated by Peter Blecha and funded by the Henry M. Jackson foundation.

The Famous Bicycle Tree

For centuries an extremely girthsome old-growth cedar tree -- reported to have measured 13 feet 9 inches across at its base, and with a circumference of 48 feet -- stood tall (in a cluster with a few cousins) at a rural spot located about a mile or so just south of the town of Snohomish. The towering natural landmark was situated on the edge of Abel Johnson's (b. 1844) property right alongside of the dirt wagon road that led northward into town. 

Then in the late-1800s the new fad of bicycle riding became popular and that dirt road apparently became a favorite cruising route, and the giant tree presumably served as a "milestone" of sorts located at the junction of the Woodinville cutoff and the Cathcart and the Larimer's Corners-Lowell Roads -- just yards east of today's intersection of State Highway 9 and Marsh Road on Airport Way.

It was the Snohomish Bicycle Club's president -- Civil War veteran, David Lewis Paramore (b. 1840) -- who is given the credit for leading the effort to make that ancient tree an unmistakable "destination" along a new cinder-lined bike path built next to the road. And it was Johnson who kindly deeded the patch of real estate to the club.

Paramore's Civil War Pension record (#1091044) notes that the former Union Army soldier moved to Snohomish in 1890 and that he worked there as a druggist until retiring in 1912. But it was soon after his arrival in town that a local logger named Milligan was hired to cut a (5-feet wide by 12-feet high) pathway through the massive trunk -- all for the princely sum of $15.

The simple fact that a person could now walk, bike, motorcycle, or even ride a horse or wagon straight through the arch of this hollowed-out grand old cedar was a big hit with locals. A local newspaper even made mention that the site had become a favorite for strolling "romantic ones" (Everett Daily Herald, 1913).

It seemed that everybody wanted to have their picture taken at the site and many a photographer obliged them, including notables ranging from the famous Darius Kinsey (1869-1945) to partners, Ira Webster (d. 1942) and Nelson Stevens (d. 1930). As a result there are numerous vintage photographs, and almost two dozen different postcard image variations of the tree and its fans currently known to exist. 

Fans of the tree must have been deeply concerned when during an "electrical disturbance" -- i.e., a summer storm -- descended on the area on the evening of August 22, 1913, and a lightning bolt "shattered the top of the giant cedar, dividing the trunk at the top of the archway ..."

Though wounded, the Bicycle Tree survived and for another decade-and-a-half. It remained a beloved magnet for locals -- and a draw for curious visitors on excursions, who now often drove to it by car. In fact, one contemporary newspaper noted that with "the advent of the automobile, cycling became less popular, and in time the Bicycle Club went out of existence" and that the "Title to the property then reverted to Mr. Johnson" (Everett Morning Tribune).

Had the generous Mr. Johnson not passed away in 1924 (and Mr. Paramore likewise, back in 1921), they surely would have been saddened on the afternoon of Friday, December 2, 1927, when, at shortly before 3:00 p.m., rising floodwaters from the Snohomish River -- already drowning surrounding farms and the road – now undermined the tree and with a considerable gust of wind helping out, the old giant finally toppled, breaking up the paved road in its epic fall.

That same day's issue of the Everett Herald ran a front page story with a blaring all-caps headline noting that people who ventured out to have a look at the fallen icon took note of its "unusually short roots" system. On Saturday, December 3, 1927, highway crews arrived and within hours what the Herald praised as a "scenic asset" to Snohomish and the Everett Morning Tribune described as "a landmark which gave the community a great deal of advertising," was transformed into little more than several cords of firewood and a few piles of soggy sawdust. Although the famous Snohomish Bicycle Tree had escaped the saws of Northwest loggers all those many years, a combination of lightning, wind storms, and finally a flood brought about the monarch's end.

As early as the day after its demise the Tribune was reporting that "there is now some talk of cutting an arch through the base of one of the other living trees which is even larger than the Bicycle Tree ... . Thus far the movement has been but talk ..." All that chatter did, however, lead to action and a second tunnel tree was hollowed-out as a replacement. Ah, but that's a "hole" 'nother story for whole 'nother day... 

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