By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Yamhill County's arboreal giants

Although we eulogize humans at the time of their passing, seldom do obituaries note the passing of venerable trees that have contributed to Yamhill County’s history, environment and scenery.

More than 20 of these historic trees presently comprise the list of Yamhill County Historical Society Heritage Trees.

But trees do not customarily get in the news. Often we may not know of the status of these famous trees.

Trees such as “Old Mac.” This Heritage Tree was thought to be McMinnville’s tallest Douglas fir, at 183 feet. It was believed to have been on the scene in 1845 when Samuel and Mahala Cozine bought their land claim.

At the site of “Old Mac,” near Fleishauer at the end of Powell Lane, the Grand Ronde Indians and the tribes to the south, were said to hold powwows. In 1919, after Anna Powell received a deed for 19 acres, here along Cozine Creek, she and husband “Oscar” William Powell moved to the site. Both were chiropractors and William, from 1936-42, was Yamhill County judge. Anna and William’s two daughters, Laura (Knapp) and Ruth (Warren), told of many happy times as children, playing at the base of the big tree. When their dad plowed, they walked behind, searching for Indian arrowheads and other artifacts.

On fine summer days, the big fir towered majestically over our town. With winter’s first snow, its glittery white frosting was grand to behold. And as it watched over all, this kingly tree became well-known and was given the community name of “Old Mac.”

As I drive along Brockwood near Collard, if I looked northwesterly, I might still see “Old Mac” above surrounding trees and buildings. But I do not take time to do so. I hope “Old Mac” is still keeping watch over McMinnville. I have read no obituary to the contrary.

And what about the 131-foot-tall pine — Yamhill County’s only Heritage pine tree — near the parking lot at the former Columbus School, 600 S. Baker? That building now is gone, replaced by the Columbus School on Fellows. In 1976-77, students researching school history learned the earliest Columbus School was built in 1892 on property that was part of Samuel Cozine’s donation land claim. For $1 in 1958, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Perry, longtime residents of the big white house adjacent to that school, sold the district this additional property.

Bill will be remembered by old-timers as the “bee man,” who was always called for removal of errant swarms. He told students that early pioneers brought that pine as a seedling from Eastern Oregon — and that it was the only one to survive. When the Perry house was demolished in the 1980s, extra care was taken to not damage the tree.

Is the tree still there? Always as I drive by, attentively tending to my driving, I forget to look. I hope it has not passed on.

One McMinnville Heritage Tree that will surely be eulogized when it passes is the giant sequoia Library Tree at the end of Third, which served as McMinnville’s Christmas tree for at least 25 years. Last year, that tree was 100 years old — but McMinnvillans did not observe that event as they often do for human centenarians.

McMinnville has two such giant sequoias — both about 120 feet tall as per recent measurements. In 1912, the two seedlings were brought from California’s Sequoia National Park by Frank Brown, Carlton farmer, and longtime McMinnville National Bank cashier Walter Scott Link, who served on McMinnville Water & Light Commission for 34 years and was called the father of the city’s modern water system. The other seedling was planted by Link at his residence at Sixth and Galloway. Is it still standing? I have not heard of its passing.

And north of Cove Orchard Road, at Krono, former Red Electric Train stop, how many of the Douglas firs still are in that row planted in 1894 for environmental purposes? The plantings, done by George Zimmerman at request of his mother, Louisa Zimmerman, resulted from the Southern Pacific switch from burning wood in its steam engines to burning coal. The coal was of such low grade that the entire adjacent countryside was covered with ash and soot — including the home of Christian and Louisa Zimmerman, some hundred feet from the tracks. The trees, about 20 feet in front of the house, were to serve as a buffer to filter out ash.

Even before that, the Zimmermans knew intimately about trains. In 1883, they came to Oregon from Ontario, Canada, via a Northern Pacific “immigrant train” that opened into Portland in 1882. Those trains took the place of wagon trains, with passengers living in one end of the railroad car and animals and their feed in the other, and stops for feed and water. The trip took seven to eight days. The Zimmermans bought property at that Cove Orchard site in 1883.

Not all of the original row of Doug firs lived. As others of these Heritage Trees pass on, will these environmental pioneers be honored on occasion of their passing?

And there’s the 45-foot-tall oak snag, once part of an oak tree that, circa 1848, marked a corner of the old Andrew Shuck Donation Land Claim, three miles east of Yamhill. Shuck, in 1849, was appointed sheriff of the Territory of Oregon. In 1992, when a surveyor peeled back the bark of that snag, he found the original marking of the northwest corner of the claim — a fine addition to the county’s Heritage Trees.

The first tree to make the list of our Yamhill County Heritage Trees on Feb. 11, 1992, was the 125-foot-tall black walnut adjacent to an old white farmhouse on the grounds of the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan. That species, Juglans nigra, is indigenous to the eastern United States. It is believed the tree was brought across the Plains by the area’s earliest settlers and planted as a seedling.

Some of the trees that make up that Yamhill County list are well known, such the Ewing Young oak and the pear tree at the Hoover-Minthorn House in Newberg, where young Herbert Hoover lived with his uncle and sampled the pears.

The original members of the Yamhill County Historical Society Heritage Tree program, formed in 1992, were Maxine and George Williams, Shirley Kuykendall and Ben Frum. Massive amounts of information — photos, maps, deeds, historical data — have been gathered about each tree. Hopefully, these wonderful old trees will live forever — but should an obituary be needed, information is at the ready.

Out there in Yamhill County’s vast 718-square mile-area, there are undoubtedly other trees worthy of Heritage Tree nomination. Should you have a suggestion for one, call the Yamhill County Historical Society at 503-864-2308.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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