TRAVERSE CITY — Trees signify life and granite strength and longevity.
Grand Traverse County's Confederation of Womens Clubs used both in 1923 and 1924 to create three memorials for the area's sons and daughters who died in wars.
The first was a "living" memorial highway along M-11, now Veterans Drive, in then-rural Garfield Township south of Traverse City. Sixteen Grand Traverse County women clubs led the effort to plant 42 sugar maple trees, one for each of the 42 local soldiers who died in 1917-1918 during World War I and the Spanish-American War in 1898.
The "Memorial Avenue" segment stretched from Garfield Township Hall north to the city limits. It was dedicated on Arbor Day, May 4, 1923, with the help of other civic organizations, the Bowen-Holliday American Legion Post 35 and state highway department.
The following year, the clubs raised $817 in donations, about $10,760 in today's dollars, to pay for two 51„2-foot granite memorials. By then, one more name had been added to the list of war dead. Bronze plaques on one monument list 34 World War I soldier names, while the Spanish-American War memorial includes nine, for a total of 43 war dead.
The third memorial was a granite boulder with a plaque installed at the top of Rennie Hill at the entrance of Memorial Highway.
The monuments still stand today on the north side of the Grand Traverse County Courthouse, and the boulder is located along Veterans Drive between the road and VFW Post 2780 parking lot.
Most of the maples are gone, felled by age, storms, disease, road changes and the fact that sugar maples generally don't make good street trees. They have a lifespan of about 75 years and can live longer, but don't grow well in compacted soil along roads.
Yet a line of four sugar maples just south of the 40-acre Memorial Gardens on Veterans Drive could qualify in height and age as surviving sentinels. They stand in front of an adjacent house and cemetery office just south of the cemetery. The Record-Eagle was unable to find anyone who could confirm they are the original trees.