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586-Year-Old Historic Tree at Library Survives Lightning Strike, Forest Fire

The massive Douglas fir that sits outside the entrance was put on display 20 years after the public library district was voted into existence.

People walk by it every day, and it is a part of Lakewood’s history. But its origin dates back long before it became a local landmark.

The Douglas fir slice in front of the has roots hundreds of years old. The tree was planted in 1359 in a forest near Packwood. The tree was chopped down in 1946 and it was the largest  Douglas fir to be ever taken for logs. It was 586 years old when it was cut down.

It took loggers two days to get through the 12-foot-wide tree. They called it “the Big One” before it was trucked to Tacoma’s Northwest Door Co. to be milled into boards and eventually custom doors. It was 238 feet tall and 40 feet around. It weighed in at more than nine tons.

The company’s president, Herman E. Tenzler, put a cross section of the tree on display to promote “wise forest management” since the tree was only harvested because it was already starting to rot from age.

A pamphlet printed at the time was on display at the company and told the tree’s side of the story:

“In my 586th year…as the song of the saw and the shouts of the logging crew grew closer, I knew my destiny was to be fulfilled… Because of [forest management] provisions, I leave my forest friends with no regrets. Under the guiding hand of man, there will be many others to take my place. It is my destiny that I go into a new and varied service. I am about to be fashioned into a thousand useful items.”

The rings in the tree show the history of the land as the centuries passed and the world changed around it. Brass markers note the historical events that came and went during its lifetime. The markers note its sprouting and its time when Columbus “discovered” America when it was 133 years old.

It survived a forest fire when it was some 300 years old. It was also struck by lightning when it was 420, a period when the Revolutionary War hit the nation.

About 20 years after it was cut and put on display, the cross section was donated to what was then called the Flora B. Tenzler Memorial Library, named in memory of Tenzler’s late wife.

The Lakewood library took shape and opened in 1963. The cross section of the tree was put into place in July 1965, more than 20 years after the library district was voted into existence.

Loggers first had to cut the section from the stump at the Tacoma company and use a crane to lay it on a flat bed truck for a trip to Lakewood. A crane then moved the big wheel close to the building as men guided it into place by hand and guide ropes. The process took several hours.

The property tax on rural parcels paid for books and employees but the cost for actually housing the collection came courtesy of local donations through the non-profit

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