How the Eastern White Pine Became Michigan’s State Tree

Hartwick Pines State Park in Michigan, via Grayling Visitor’s Bureau

Across the United States, many people are bringing home Eastern White Pines to light up and decorate for Christmas. In the cases of both Maine and Michigan, they’re also paying homage to the history of their state, whether they realize it or not. We’ve talked a lot here about the Eastern White Pine’s storied New England history, including its role in the Revolutionary War, but it has an interesting history deeper inland as well. 

Michigan Radio explores that story in a recent NPR feature. The tree’s role in the state began during an era of logging during the late 19th century. As you might know, early colonists in New England didn’t exactly have sustainability in mind as they cleared land to make way for their farms, and they wiped out vast tracts of forest between the1600s and 1800s. It wasn’t long before logging companies had to start moving toward the Midwest to find mature stands of Eastern White Pine, which thrive in the sandy soils of both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.

The state became the national leader in lumber production from about 1870 to 1900, bringing $4 billion to their economy. Eastern White Pines became so economically significant that squabbles over the right to cut them down led to the 1837 treaty also called “the White Pine Treaty” in which Ojibwe leaders ceded a large area of land to the U.S. government while maintaining their rights to gather, hunt and fish there.

From the piece, which consults with (appropriately named) local historian Hillary Pine:

The logging era’s impact in Michigan is lasting. Pine says that’s partly why, in 1955, a group of schoolchildren in Saginaw wrote to their local state representative, Holly E. Hubbell, about the importance of the logging era to Michigan’s economy and population. Hubbell then introduced a bill naming the White Pine Michigan’s state tree, a title that became official on October 14 of that year, she says. The White Pine is also Maine’s state tree.

“You can also see mature White Pines at Hartwick Pines, which hosts a stand of old-growth White Pine trees, some of which are up to about 165 feet tall, she says.

“As you walk the trail, you’re literally encased in this canopy of old-growth trees towering above you. You can see quite a distance into the forest because there’s not much growing on the forest floor, and in the winter, especially, it makes for just a beautiful sight,” Pine said.

You can listen to this NPR segment in full at

Check out more about the history of the Eastern White Pine tree in the U.S.:

America’s First Navy Flag Featured the Eastern White Pine Tree

Have you heard the tale about how the Eastern White Pine tree sparked the Revolutionary War? Most people associate the start of that crucial moment in our nation’s history with tea and taxes, but it was “the King’s Broad Arrow” that played the biggest role. Growing extraordinary tall, light and strong all over what would become the Northeast United States, it was in great demand for shipbuilding during the 17th century, both by colonists and King George I of England. 

A little less familiar is the story of the flag of America’s first Navy, which featured the very same tree. Recently featured on “American Minute,” this bit of history reveals how citizens acting as merchant mariners interfered with British seafaring supply routes in 1775. Led by captain John Glover of Marblehead, Massachusetts, the flotilla included America’s first armed naval vessel, the USS Hannah, which was personally financed by George Washington, along with the vessels Franklin, Warren, Hancock and Lee. All had crews of Massachusetts fishermen who defended American ports and raided British ships transporting ammunition and supplies.

Sometimes called “Washington’s Fleet,” the flotilla captured 55 British ships full of muskets, flints and ammunition, “a tremendous benefit to the new Continental Army stationed near Boston.” 

“A flag flown by early American ships was the Pine Tree Flag, designed by General Washington’s secretary, Colonel Joseph Reed, who wrote in a letter, October 20, 1775: ‘… flag with a white ground and a tree in the middle, the motto AN APPEAL TO HEAVEN.'”

The Pine Tree Flag was also flown in towns, churches, riverbanks, and at the nation’s capital in Philadelphia. Why the Pine Tree? Eastern White Pine Trees grew to a height of over 150 feet and were ideal for use as masts on British ships.

“The King’s forest surveyor agents would go onto anyone’s land and mark the best trees as belonging to the King. These pines contributed to the British navy becoming the most powerful navy in the world. In 1734, there was a Mast Tree Riot where men disguised as Indians chased away the King’s forest surveyor. In 1772, New Hampshire had another show of resistance, the Pine Tree Riot.”

“In 1772, the sheriff came to South Weare, New Hampshire, to arrest those who had cut down some of the King’s trees. In retaliation, 30 men burst into the sheriff’s room at the inn at night, with their faces blackened with soot in disguise, and beat the sheriff sore with switches made from pine branches.”

You can read the rest of this story on “American Minute,” and learn more about the King’s Broad Arrow in our previous post. 

The Eastern White Pine Tree was celebrated by the Iroquois (whose true name is Haudenosaunee Nation) long before Europeans came along. Check out this story about the “Tree of Peace” and how it came to unite the Five Nations Confederacy.

White Pine Monographs: The Architectural Charm of Maine’s Southern Coast

Historic Maine home

In April 1918, architect C. Howard Walker wrote a lovely feature story for Volume IV, issue 2 of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs, highlighting homes along Maine’s southern coast that were already old by that time. But it’s clear right away that this editorial is really a love letter to the state’s great history, New England’s mastery of colonial architecture, and the Eastern White Pine tree.

Maine Southern Colonial Homes

Colonial home door detail

Check out this passage:

“It is a strange anomaly that the white pine, with its home in a land of harsh winters, growing amidst the constant stress of wind and storm, should have a fiber straight as a ruled line, a surface soft and smooth as silk, and that its grain, instead of being gnarled and twisted, should be so even and fine that it will respond to the most delicate of carving. The logs, brought down over the snows to the streams, float down in road rafts to the more open reaches of the rivers, to the mill ponds where the streams are dammed, and there are sawn in lengths and widths, into scantling and plank and board, and sent to their destinations.”

“The Yankee skipper knows all of this. He has loaded his decks at the head of navigation and is now distributing his cargo. He knows every inch of the varied coast of Maine, the long fingers of land stretching out into the sea, the inlets, and bays, and islands, and reefs; and even in the fog he has little need of his chart, but the chart itself shows penetrating arms of the sea running deep into the land to meet the rivers, each of which ramifies into little bays and coves and back waters and into numerous almost land-locked harbors in which navies might ride…. the coast cities of Maine lie up these inlets, and in the cities and upon the banks of the bays and coves the merchants of Maine built their houses.”

Maine colonial architecture

These fine houses are detailed throughout the issue, with Walker, the son of a skipper himself, praising the way they were so well-suited to the landscape and the era, so pleasingly proportioned and beautifully crafted. Many of them were built between 1800 and 1810, when people had begun to recover from the economic impact of the Revolutionary War. That meant houses were becoming more ornamental, but in a practical and restrained New England kind of way. Some get a little criticism, too, like “balustrade over porch unnecessary, too high.”

Read more about these houses at our White Pine Monograph Library.

White Pine Monographs: Look Inside the WWI Lumber Industry

spruce world war iThe World War I era was an interesting time to be a part of the wood products industry, to put it lightly. In the Northwest, during a major timber worker strike organized by unions International Workers of the World and the American Federation of Labor, the U.S. Army took it upon themselves to keep production going.

The strike shut down 90% of timber operations in some areas, all while the government was in need of lumber for its first fleet of military airplanes, ships, encampments and other infrastructure. The Army formed the ‘Spruce Production Division,’ assigning enlisted soldiers to work in logging camps and mills. When the war ended and regular work resumed, logging companies took advantage of the new logging roads and rail lines the division had built, helping to grow the industry.

What was happening in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast at the same time? Nothing quite so dramatic, though the war effort definitely compounded a general labor shortage and diverted many railroads for government usage, causing distribution headaches. In 1918, Sherman L. Coy, assistant general manager of the Northern Lumber Company, wrote an op-ed in the White Pine Monographs that sheds an interesting light into this period of time.

World War I lumber

Here’s the text in full:

“If there was ever a time when extreme patience, forbearance, and the united efforts of each of us were called for, it is to-day. Never before have we been obliged to face such a condition as now confronts us, and we must demonstrate our unswerving loyalty to the government. Which means our willingness to give and take as occasion may require, without complaint – to sacrifice personal interest and convenience for the greater welfare of the Nation – for team work will win the war.”

“There is every reason to believe that the present abnormal conditions will remain as normal codifies for a considerable time ad there will be may opportunities to show where we stand. We must be as that man in a group of men ad some who were talking about henpecked husbands. His wife said to him, ‘You’re not henpecked, are you, John?’ He replied, ‘No, indeed. I like it.’”

“To-day countless difficulties are presenting themselves to the lumber manufacturer in the logging and manufacture of this product. In some way these difficulties must be and are going to be met. The ideal solution will not always be possible, but in all cases the most satisfactory substitute must be accepted.”

“Transportation problems, however, are becoming increasingly difficult, and it will require the close cooperation of the dealer and the manufacturer to effect a workable solution. The manufacturer has lumber to sell which the dealer is going to want, and which the manufacturer wants him to have. But with the embargo at present in force by the railroads and with the probability that there will be others before conditions are improved, the situation calls for the closest understanding and cooperation between manufacturers and retailers. We must be patient with one another and with the Government in its direction of railway transportation. Not only are shipments to certain points by specified routes just now impossible because of the embargo, but it is very uncertain whether cars may be obtained for shipments outside the embargo zone. In many instances they are not to be had. Every order placed or lumber at the present time must carry with it the understanding that there can be no guarantee as to shipment.”

“The manufacturers are doing their best to move their stocks and to take care of the retail trade in the face of these handicaps. The car shortage, however, has been so acute that the planing mills have been able to operate only on part time, and the necessity has arisen for using flat cars to a very large extent. The use of ‘flats’ calls for extras in the way of stars and wire and means an added expense to the shipper, just as it not infrequently places a burden on the retailer through the exposure of its lumber to unfavorable water conditions. And there is further necessity of placing only orders which will permit of capacity loading, even though this may sometimes mean that the dealer carries a larger stock than he ordinarily requires. But with a patriotic spirit the existing situation can be met so as to cause no real hardship to anyone.”

“There is one encouraging feature in the situation. The problems of the lumber industry are no worse than those the many other businesses are obliged to meet – perhaps not as difficult as some. Lumbermen are not slackers. They are going to meet their problems squarely for the Government and with fairness to each other. There is White Pine in abundance, and while labor and transportation difficulties may retard its movement temporarily, they cannot stop it. The big, wide areas that will recognize it always as the best of all woods must and shall be supplied.”

Maine’s Bicentennial Celebration Includes a Tribute to Eastern White Pine Trees

maine eastern white pine tricentennial grove

The state of Maine is 200 years old, representing the anniversary of its independence from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. July 26th, 2019 was the 200-year anniversary of the day when voters approved the state’s secession, and that independence became official on March 15th, 1820.

On July 30th, Governor Janet Mills kicked off a 15-month Bicentennial celebration with a helicopter tour that carried her to a variety of events in Presque Isle, Bangor, Portland and Augusta.

Naturally, as the Maine state tree, the beloved Eastern White Pine tree gets its due. Along with State Sen. Bill Diamond and Portland mayor Ethan Strimling, the Governor finished the ceremonial planting of the Tricentennial Pine Grove at Deering Oaks Park.

Other juvenile white pine trees were provided to participating communities to anchor new or existing public park areas, along with a commemorative Bicentennial marker. The tree planting honors Maine’s first 200 years and its next 100 years.

From the Fiddlehead Focus:

By 2120, those trees planted in 2020 would be about the same size as the trees first encountered by the first European settlers to Maine in the 17th century.

‘The eastern white pine is integral to the history of the state in so many ways,’ said [Maine State archivist Dave] Cheever. ‘We think this is a way to honor something so symbolic of Maine, and whoever is planting it can bring their own symbolism to it as well. And it’s an environmentally friendly thing to do. It never hurts to plant a tree.’

The Eastern White pine played a crucial role in the Revolutionary War and in Maine’s early history, and remains an integral part of its industry and identity. Learn more about its role as the state tree, its importance to the economy and the story of “The King’s Broad Arrow.”

Top photo via Ben McCanna/The Times Record

Mayflower Replica Made of Eastern White Pine Unveiled in Boston

Mayflower replica

Sculpted by Maine-based maritime artist Terry Geaghan to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower, a replica ship has been unveiled in Boston. It may still be 2019, but festivities are already underway, and the replica is part of commemorations planned by the American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).

The hand-carved replica, beautifully crafted by the artist, has been christened “The Boston Mayflower” and placed in the organization’s front courtyard on Newbury Street. Measuring ten feet long and ten feet high, the replica recreates the details of the original vessel, which landed in 1620. Along with an artistic tribute to the Wampanoag people and a new exhibit called “Origins and Legacy of the Mayflower,” it will be on view at the American Ancestors building through the end of the 2020 commemorative year.

Artist Terrence "Terry" Geaghan, from Bath, Maine
Artist Terrence “Terry” Geaghan, from Bath, Maine

“The sailing of the Mayflower stands as an icon in American history. The Mayflower Compact was formative to our democracy. And we are just as committed to telling the Native American story,” said D. Brenton Simons, President and CEO of American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society. “As the largest nonprofit involved in the commemoration—with more than 260,000 members and millions of online users—we have a responsibility to educate people everywhere about this historic occasion,” Simons said.

“We will carry out our work in many different ways—through events, tours, published scholarship, exhibitions, educational opportunities, and online research resources. We have had an important stake in telling this story since our founding in 1845 and we are dedicated to helping our members and the public connect to this important moment in American history,” he added.

The choice to use Eastern White Pine is, of course, a fitting one. One of the most plentiful trees to be found in the Northeast and New England at the time, it played a crucial role in the start of the Revolutionary War, and was also used to make countless buildings and pieces of furniture throughout the early history of the United States.