This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A little strip of grass between 300 and 400 South on 600 East holds a treasured memory and a bit of a mystery.
At one time, not far from the median, stood a huge cedar tree, known as the "lone cedar tree," that was said to have sheltered the pioneers, miners, and various travelers who came out of Emigration Canyon down 300 South, which was then known as Emigration Street or Emigration Road. Many of the travelers were on their way to Pioneer Fort, now downtown's Pioneer Park, or other Western destinations.
There is no shortage of myths about the cedar tree. Some people say Brigham Young planted it, though he didn't; it is more likely that the tree was already here when Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.
Another tale has it as the only tree in the valley when the state's first settlers arrived. But according to Greg Maurer, a horticulture expert at Red Butte Garden, the valley was full of "basin brush" or "sage brush steppe." He said it is possible the tree was actually a juniper, since cedars are found in southern Utah or at higher altitudes in the Wasatch.
"You don't often find cedars around here," he said.
Whatever the tree actually was, it eventually died.
"It died of old age and whatever trees die of," said Bette Barton, first vice-president of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers.
But the lone tree was not forgotten. The Daughters of Utah Pioneers wanted to keep its memory alive.
On July 4, 1933, the group dedicated a memorial that still stands. The cupola sheltered about 3 feet of the original tree, known as the Old Cedar Post. A plaque, still there, reads: "The street to the north was originally Emigration Road - the only approach from the East. Over this road the pioneers of 1847 and subsequent years entered the valley of the Great Salt Sea. They found growing near this site a lone cedar and paused beneath its shade. Songs were sung and prayers of gratitude offered by those early pilgrims. Later the cedar tree became a meeting place for the loggers going to the canyons, children played beneath its branches, lovers made it a trysting place. Because of its friendly influence on the lives of these early men and women we dedicate this site to their memory."
Although the memorial was placed in the middle of 600 East, it originally stood at 300 South and 600 East. The tree, or rather what remained of it, was moved.
"It was in someone's yard," Barton said.
But something mysterious happened on Sept. 21, 1958. Vandals cut away the remaining trunk on the memorial, leaving only a flat stump. An old police report from the Salt Lake City Police Department says "Officer Hendricksen found that the tree at 6th East and 4th South had been cut down. In checking it was found that there was one old saw mark on the tree about 20 inches from the ground, and the other about 16 inches from the ground. These saw cuts were only part way through and then the post or tree was broken off probably with some considerable force."
The report went on to say that, "Marilyn Hilton (a witness) stated that at 9:30 p.m. she noticed a group of five or six boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 15 walking south on 6th East from 3rd South. The girls were wearing pedal pushers and the boys were wearing Levis."
A search of the area revealed nothing, not the suspects, nor the remains of the tree.
Detective Robin Snyder of the present day Salt Lake City Police Department said she doesn't think any arrests were ever made in the case. There was no follow-up to the original 1958 report of the incident.
In short, no one knows where the tree is.
In 1960, a new memorial was built, Barton said, to explain what happened to the tree. The new addition says: "Lone Cedar Tree. Although willows grew along the banks of streams, a lone cedar tree near this spot became Utah's first famous landmark. Someone in a moment of thoughtlessness cut it down, leaving only the stump which is part of this monument. In the glory of my prime I was the Pioneers' friend."
Now even the stump is gone, and all that remains is the pedestal it rested on.
In 1991, the students from M. Lynn Bennion Elementary School planted a juniper to replace the grand old one. The marker in front of it reads in part: "Rocky Mountain Juniper, Juperus Scopulorum. A replacement of the oldest tree in the valley which grew in this location."
The juniper is thriving. Although still considerably smaller than its predecessor, someday it will provide shade to others who amble down the road.