By all accounts the two remaining cottonwood trees gracing the front entrance to the museum were huge. Fast growing, they dated back to 1880 and had 16-foot circumferences. And that was both a blessing and a curse. The trees were the tallest "thing" in Union. They attracted a variety of wildlife, shaded Heritage Fair visitors and pretty much impressed everyone who saw them. Ultimately, however, wind and lightening took their toll. One tree developed a dangerous lean toward West Harmony School while the other got struck by lightning so often that it was shattering in chunks. Sadly the Society had them chopped down in 2007 leaving 13-foot stumps.
This turned out to be a wise decision on our part because thanks to the creative carving artistry of Marengo carver Mike Bihlmaier, the trees became a beloved piece of public art. As the photos illustrate, Mike sculpted local county history books to represent the written record of our area. Some books have titles while others remain blank, ready to hold history which is yet to be written. The design discussion ebbed and flowed. Committee members exchanged many ideas. Nevertheless, Mike was able to incorporate numerous concepts and work with imperfections in the wood to produce something pretty stunning. But he could not defy time, bugs and the elements.
The stumps had begun to rot from the inside out - creating a cork-like, damp environment that attracted insects which furthererd the deterioration. The board decided that immediate action was required and we knew precisely the right man for the job – Mike. He and his crew arrived Sept. 19 with a truck-mounted lift and a special chainsaw to separate the sculptures from their bases. They are drying out inside the Schuette Building in preparation for repairs and their eventual return to the museum grounds.