It started with President Harrison. When he visited Idaho in 1891 he planted a red oak in front of the southeast corner of the Territorial Capitol. A rock sugar maple was the next presidential planting. That came about in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt visited Boise and put his tree next to Harrison’s red oak. Finally, President Taft planted an Ohio Buckeye (yes, he was from Ohio) next to Roosevelt’s maple.
The trees thrived. The first two planted lasted over 100 years. They came down in 2006, not from some disease but by the chainsaw of progress. That was the year excavation began for the new underground wings at the statehouse. They couldn’t work around the trees.
One Legislator with a sense of history and a woodworking hobby took it upon himself to preserve some of the history of the Idaho presidential trees. Then Rep. Max Black (R), District 15, saved much of the wood from the trees.
According to a story Royce Williams wrote for Idaho Public Television, saving the presidential wood was a challenge. Although Black had arranged with a contractor to secure the wood, when the chainsaws came out, it was a different contractor doing the work. Some fast talking saved the wood. Black then had to scramble to find a place to store it temporarily, and find a longer-term storage site where it could cure. Black secured a portable sawmill and 20 volunteers to slice up the trees. He located kilns in Emmett, Boise, and Meridian where he could dry the lumber.
After curing the wood for 18 months, Black began delivering it to wood carvers around the state. Each carver got enough wood to make something for themselves, and a piece for public display. Those creations are on rotating display today in Statuary Hall in the renovated capitol building.