Buena Vista County, IA
IAGenWeb Project

Tree museum features roots of rich and famous
By Larry Stone
Register staff writer May 15, 1988

Storm Lake, IA – George Washington would be proud.  Somebody is finally remembering him for the trees he planted rather than that one cherry tree he cut down.

On the shores of Storm Lake, in a unique, open-air museum grows a sapling tulip poplar with roots that stretch – figuratively, at least – all the way to Mount Vernon, Virginia., and the nation’s first president.  The tree, planted this spring, is a descendant of a tulip poplar Washington planted at Mount Vernon in 1785.

There’s history in that tree, and in the 15 other young trees scattered through the Living Heritage Tree Museum in Sunset Park.  Nearby is a Japanese maple grown from stock of a tree planted on the White House grounds by president Grover Cleveland in 1886.

A young sycamore is descended from seeds carried aboard the Apollo 14 moon landing mission in 1971.  There’s a seedling traceable to the spreading chestnut tree immortalized in verse by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  An apple tree claims ties to the tree that dropped fruit to trigger Isaac Newton’s theories on gravity.

Other trees can be traced to Daniel Boone, Henry Clay, 17th century England and the American Revolution.

Storm Lake Mayor Wilbur Tucker blossoms like a wild plum when he talks about the tree sanctuary. “This idea grew from a newspaper clipping sent to former Storm Lake Pilot Tribune newspaper editor John B. Anderson by a relative in Kentucky.  The article told of two men whose hobby was growing historic trees. 

Retired nurseryman Theodore Klein, of Crestwood, Kentucky, and computer engineer Stan Lemaster, of Louisville, took seeds or cuttings from trees with a traceable link to historic people or events. Then they grew seedlings to donate to public parks.

Storm Lake was in the midst of a campaign to replace trees lost to Dutch elm disease, so Tucker contacted Lemaster and Klein.  The men gave the city a Johnny Appleseed tree, which was planted in 1987.

Storm Lake residents were so enthused about the special tree – often calling Mayor Tucker to report on its growth – that city officials decided to expand the idea.

Mary K. Anderson, co-chairman of the Community Betterment Council, jumped on the bandwagon.  Brad Jones, who operates Jones Nursery, drew plans for a two-acre tree Museum on Sunset Park.  City parks superintendent Bob Williams endorsed the project.  Mayor Tucker accepted Lemaster’s and Klein’s offer of 16 more trees.

Lemaster said he and Klein never had given so many trees to one town before – but they like the Storm Lake people

“I’ve never been to Storm Lake, but the things I’ve heard about the town impressed me.” Lemaster said.”  Their eyes would light up when they mentioned Storm Lake.”

Townspeople shared that enthusiasm.  A fund drive in the city of 10,000 raised $25,000 for the project in six weeks.

Last month, nearly 200 volunteers spent a Saturday planting and fencing the trees, building 1,100 feet of sidewalk, painting a shelter, seeding grass and otherwise sprucing up the new Living Heritage Tree Museum.  Iowa Public Service Company donated labor to install a flag pole and wiring for lights along the walk.  City workers are putting the finishing touches on landscaping and a 40 seat outdoor classroom.

“This has really been a fun project because of all the people that got involved.” Tucker said.

Tucker is searching for trees with Iowa connections to expand the park.  He would like to get stock from a tree planted by Herbert Hoover or John Wayne, and perhaps a descendant of the red delicious apple tree developed near Winterset.  Tucker has inquired about getting crab apples from five trees planted in Washington D.C., to honor Waterloo’s Sullivan brothers who died together on a ship in World War II.

Dedication of the park and a speech by Lemaster, the tree benefactor, is planned for July 3.

But the Living Heritage Tree Museum already is attracting scores of visitors.  The winding path through the museum is a hit with walkers – and is accessible to handicapped people.

And there is a history lesson at every turn – written not in books, but on the leaves of trees.

Photo of Brad Jones, Bob Williams and Storm Lake Mayor Wilbur Tucker with the ginko tree planted by Henry Clay, the 19th-centery statesman.

Transcribed by Lynn McCleary

Storm Lake Tree Museum (off site link)