Dating from the early 1800’s, the Council Oak Tree, planted in Eau Claire stood for over 150 years with little to no disturbance. However, on July 10, 1966, a summer storm blew through the city and lightning struck the tree, leaving a large gap in the center of its previously perfect crown. Yet, the Council Oak continued to stand strong for over 20 more years, until the remaining portion of the tree fell to a windstorm in 1987.
Following the uprooting of the tree, the university divided portions of the tree into large slabs and wood planks, and the university Chemistry department treated them to help preserve the slabs. After the wood had been treated, university staff members created various items from the slabs. One such creation, pictured above, was the bench created by Mike Christopherson, a professor in the Department of Art and Design. The bench first debuted to the public upon its completion on July 23, 2003, at an art exhibition at a local library showcasing the towns rich heritage. The bench is adorned with a laser-cut image of the original Council Oak Tree on the surface of the seat. The image, based on a historic photograph from the university archives, was used by Christopherson “so viewers would see exactly what the tree looked like before it was hit by lightning.”
Following the exhibition and some time in Christopherson’s personal collection, the bench was donated to the university in March of 2005, in the hopes of adding a seating area for students. The bench’s placement within the university was intentional, as it is now located in McIntyre Library, sitting in the southwest corner of the first floor behind the government publications department. Visitors who sit on the bench can look out over Little Niagara Creek, and view the new Council Oak Tree, standing tall in the same spot where the original once stood.
UW – Eau Claire centered its campus around the Council Oak Tree, both geographically, as well as symbolically, and as the university continues to grow, so does the new Council Oak Tree, overlooked by its predecessor, now transformed into a seating area for students, past, present, and future.
Written by Bailey Carruthers, October 2021.
Building Excellence: University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 1916 – 2016, written by Robert J. Gough and James W. Oberly http://web.archive.org/web/20060505021114/http://www.uwec.edu/Library/archives/exhibits/oak.htm
“Our Town. Artists with connections to Eau Claire use varied media to capture warm feelings about the community” by Ann Barness for The Leader-Telegram, June 29, 2003. https://dailyreporter.com/files/2010/05/oaktree.pdf
“Council Oak Bench Finds a New Home on Campus” by Heather Muir for OFF THE SHELF, March 2005.