A tree grows in Howell

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When the destructive Emerald Ash Borer attacked the fabled Indian Oak Tree on Alger Street in downtown Howell, those who cherished its history shed a collective tear.

Most of the tree was cut away to avoid further infestation by the destructive beetle. What’s left is a tall trunk and part of a branch that once guided travelers along the Grand River Trail.

This week, a new Indian Oak Tree stands guard at the entrance to the new Sibley Street parking lot. The new tree, a gleaming, ribbony steel sculpture by artist Carl W. Goines, captures the spirit of the original. Located behind First National Bank, it’s the first of the public-art sculptures being installed.

That part of the original tree still stands and that another tree, this one borne of imagination and steel, pays respect to the original is testament to the magic and importance of the Indian Oak Tree.

When I first moved to Howell, one of the most interesting things I’d ever seen was the Indian Oak Tree.

It wasn’t exceptionally large; I remember the tree as wider rather than tall, and its unusual appearance made quite an impression. Frankly, I’d never seen a tree that looked quite like that one.

It didn’t take long before I learned of the tree’s importance to the history of the area.

The tree had an important job as a way-finder for travelers along what was then known as the Grand River Trail. The Indians who inhabited the area long before there was a city of Howell trained the limbs of the tree to point people in the right direction, a task that certainly took many years to accomplish.

The tree’s branches pointed out at a 90-degree angle and then up at another 90 degrees. For years that amazing tree stood like the traffic cop of its day, testament to the ingenuity of the area’s Native Americans as it guided travelers along the route that presaged today’s Grand River Avenue.

When a condominium project took shape on the land surrounding it, the tree stayed, and the condo development honored it by taking its name: Indian Oaks.

The new tree is a beautiful tribute to its predecessor. It feels like another amazing tree to me, one that bridges Howell’s past as it points the way along the route to the city’s future.

Thanks to Joyce Fisher of Howell, here are photos of the cutting of the Indian Oak Tree:

About Maria Stuart 211 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse. You can check out her website by clicking here.