First memorial tree of planned Boulevard of Remembrance is planted at Fort Lewis gate on March 16, 1929.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 7/12/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9479

On March 16, 1929, a memorial tree is planted at the entrance to Fort Lewis in honor of Major General Henry A. Greene (1856-1921), who commanded the post, then known as Camp Lewis, during World War I. The ceremony serves to dedicate the Boulevard of Remembrance, which is planned as a tree-lined memorial along a stretch of Pacific Highway running from the army base to the Tacoma city limits. The memorial trees will honor World War I veterans, organizations, and women who contributed to the war effort. Some 500 donated trees will be planted, many with monument stones and plaques recording those honored. However, the Boulevard of Remembrance will never reach Tacoma, and will extend only from the Nisqually River to Ponders Station. Over time it will be forgotten, plaques will disappear, and most of the trees will be removed for highway expansion. In the 1980s the Washington State Department of Transportation will propose removing the few remaining trees, which have become safety hazards. Local preservationists will mount a successful campaign to save about 30 trees.

To Honor the Fallen

The dedication ceremony on March 16, 1929, took place at the Liberty Gate entrance to Fort Lewis. The ceremony saw a northern red oak tree donated by Anna H. Weyerhaeuser (1864-1933) planted to honor General Henry Greene, the first Camp Lewis commander and 91st Division commander. At the tree, a stone with a copper plaque recorded that it honored General Greene's service.

The dedication ceremony included comments from representatives of the Tacoma Garden Club, an organization promoting the tree-planting effort, and military leaders. Major General Robert Alexander (1863-1941), commanding officer of Fort Lewis and the Third Division, and a hero of World War I, spoke of not forgetting our fallen soldiers. During the ceremony, the Fort Lewis band played. Brigadier General Michael J. Lenihan (1865-1958), also a decorated war veteran, closed the ceremony by reading the well-known Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) poem "Trees." Kilmer served in World War I and was killed in action.

Each tree would honor a veteran, a wartime support organization, or a woman who served the war effort. Patrons could purchase a tree for $6. A stone with copper plaque recording the honored person or organization sat next to the tree. The oak trees were northern red, scarlet red, and English oak, planted every 100 feet. An early donor was Jonathan C. Haley (1885-1954), of the Brown and Haley candy company. A major contributor, the Tacoma Rotary Club, provided 100 oaks that created one mile of trees.    

Tacoma's Civic Leaders 

Soon after the end of World War I, the American Forestry Association had proposed tree plantings along highways to memorialize the fallen. This would also beautify the roads. On Armistice Day 1921 the Seattle Garden Club started planting elm trees along Des Moines Way South (later named Des Moines Memorial Way). This Road of Remembrance would also include trees dedicated to woman veterans (see HistoryLink essay "Des Moines Memorial Way South, Women’s Memorial"). Roads of Remembrance would be planted in Washington communities and across the nation.

The Tacoma Garden Club Tree Committee, headed by Emily Seymour, enlisted local civic leaders to promote the memorials. Her husband, William W. Seymour (1861-1929) became involved until illness cut short his participation. William Seymour had a long history of supporting the attempts to make Tacoma more attractive. He had made a $100,000 gift to the city that funded the botanical conservatory in Wright Park. The Seymours believed this a meaningful way to beautify and honor veterans. Following her husband’s death, Emily Seymour devoted herself to community improvement.  

Anna H. Weyerhaeuser, wife of John Philip Weyerhaeuser (1859-1935), the timber-company owner, also devoted herself to community service. During World War I she served as a Red Cross leader, YWCA executive, and was active in the Tacoma Garden Club, and in other organizations. She joined the tree-planting program and strongly promoted it.

The Struggle to Preserve the Boulevard    

The 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed diverted attention from the Boulevard of Remembrance. The last tree was planted at Country Club Road and honored Bishop Frederick W. Keator (1855-1936). In all, some 500 trees had been planted along six miles of the Pacific Highway, but in the years to follow the boulevard would not receive much attention. After World War II, the National Garden Clubs started the Blue Star memorial program as a way to beautify highways and remember veterans' contributions. The Pacific Highway became a Blue Star Memorial Highway, with the Capital District Garden Club placing a monument on the Boulevard of Remembrance. The Blue Star had been a symbol from World War II, displayed in windows of homes with a son or daughter in the service.

From 1956 to 1961 the interstate highway system and the construction of I-5 resulted in removal of most of the memorial trees. The Fort Lewis Liberty Gate was moved from its original location to a site about two miles to the northeast. Two northbound lanes of I-5 were built through the original gate site. Memorial trees at the gate were removed. The General Greene tree and memorial stone were lost to road construction. Building the northbound lanes removed all the memorial trees that had stood on the southeast side of Pacific Highway. Interchanges and expansion of the southbound lanes removed most of the memorial trees on the northwest side.

In the 1980s the Washington State Department of Transportation proposed removal of trees in the right of way from Ponders Corner south to the Pierce County line. Selected trees would be removed for safety reasons, as they posed hazards to errant drivers whose cars left the highway. The Department of Transportation did not realize that the oak trees scheduled for removal were memorial plantings. Local historians and preservationists, such as Charlotte Medlock (b. 1925), learned of their planned removal and mounted a drive to save the memorial oaks. Landscaper Robert Ramsey (1930-2008) conducted a survey of the surviving trees. About 31 trees survived, and the preservation community launched a campaign to save them. Although no one could identify whom the surviving trees memorialized, it was clear that they were recalled as honoring veterans.

The Boulevard of Remembrance Today


The Washington Department of Transportation made an effort to preserve the oaks. Today the surviving trees are best viewed in the Tillicum area. A line of oaks stands on the northwest side of I-5. There are no known surviving lists of the dedications, or the plaques.

Of about 500 trees planted, for only two do we know the honorees: the General Greene and Bishop Keator trees. Both these trees were lost. A World War I monument, the 91st Division monument on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, survives to honor that division's fallen.


Sources:

A History of Pierce County Washington, Vol. 3 (Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing, 1992); Caroline Gallacci, Clio and Associates, “Pierce County Memorial Trees, The Boulevard of Remembrance: Preliminary Survey Report,” 1991 Washington State Department of Transportation; Charles E. Twining, Phil Weyerhaeuser: Lumberman (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985); HistoryLink.org, The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "War Memorial Monument on Des Moines Memorial Drive (King County)" (by Peter Blecha), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed July 10, 2010); "First Memorial Tree Planted at Fort: Tribute is Paid War Heroes at Memorial Rites," The Tacoma Ledger, March 17, 1929, p. 1.
Note: This essay was substantially revised on October 20, 2016, including correcting the date of the dedication and first memorial tree planting.


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