Thursday, August 4, 2011

Visiting Belvidere's Shoe Tree (not that kind)

While researching Belvidere for a blog post on our Uncle Buck's dining experience earlier this year, I discovered a historic site that we hadn't been made aware of when we were downtown in the county seat. A trip to the Four Sisters Winery this weekend gave us an opportunity to stop back and check it out.

Yes, my friends, we visited the legendary 350 year old Shoe Tree Oak. It's not quite as old as the mighty Salem Oak, but it's remarkable in its own way.

I'd assumed that befitting its stature, there would be signs pointing us in the direction of the tree, but we were sorely disappointed to find that wasn't the case. Fortunately I'd remembered it was on Oxford Street, which we found after a bit of driving around (note to the Garmin people: this site must be added to your maps!). It didn't take long before I spotted the mighty oak, slightly jutting out from the curb in front of a well-kept home. According to my earlier research, there was talk of taking the tree down when the street was widened some years ago, but concerned citizens intervened and the oak was saved for future generations.

Despite my pleading,
Ivan refused to change his shoes.
Beyond its age, what makes this oak so remarkable? It's a living link to an earlier time, when Belvidere was less developed and most people didn't have cars. According to legend, the Shoe Tree Oak is where the country folk would stop to put on their shoes on their way to church in town. I don't know for sure, but I'd venture that they were wearing their Sunday best and didn't want to wear out their nice shoes too quickly.

Today, the tree is apparently healthy and long-lived, and its location just into the street creates a very nice parking place for visitors. A historical marker tells the story of the tree for passers by.

While we were there taking pictures and checking it out, a man from the house was watering his garden. For a moment I considered asking him about the tree and whether the privilege of having it in front of his house weighed heavily on him and his family. Does the tree create a raking issue in the fall? Does it leave sap on his car windows? Then I realized that he deserved his privacy despite living behind such a historic place. They must get several visitors a year asking about the tree, after all.

The tree also lent its name to the nearby Shoe Tree Deli, which, unfortunately for us, is closed (we needed coffee and lots of it). A quick search found that it's on sale for $325,000, including the gas pumps. Here's your chance to own a footnote to history!

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