One of the most recent interesting landmarks I have discovered are… Shoe Trees. Not the contraptions one might insert into their shoes to help keep their shape, but trees covered in shoes. Shoe trees are an uncommon, but nationwide, landmark stepped in local traditions. I discovered the Bend, Oregon, show tree as I was driving on Hwy 97 just North of Bend. I saw this tree covered in shoes and I wondered what it meant. What was its purpose. So I immediately started researching.
Shoe trees are said to date back to the Great Depression. It was a time of lack, and is said that some people would leave their gently used shoes on a tree for someone else who might be in need of shoes. However, the truth to that story has not been verified. What the actual purpose of a shoe tree is, and how they get started, has been highly debated. No one knows for sure.
Some of the theories are:
- As mentioned, leaving used shoes for someone else who needs them.
- Something fun to do with worn out shoes.
- To document a memory or milestone – graduation, winning a big game, milestone birthday, loss of virginity, etc.
- To commemorate the death of a loved one
- To signify gang territory or the availability of drugs in the area.
- Some shoe trees even have a serial killer as part of their origin story – such as the Salem, Michigan shoe tree. Legend has it, a serial killer threw the shoes of his victims into the tree.
I think in the purest essence, Shoe trees are much like a gum wall or a lock fence, where someone can go to document their visit, celebrate a moment, or leave a memorial for someone. Unlike a gum wall or lock fence, shoe trees can be fragile. The tree could die and fall over, or some vandal could burn or cut it down.
1.5 miles North of Bend, Oregon. East right off of Hwy 97. Best to approach it going Northbound so you don’t have to try to cross a busy highway.
Pacific Northwest Shoe Trees
- Shoe Tree: Alfalfa, Oregon
- Shoe Tree in a Lovely Park: Beaverton, Oregon
- Shoe Tree: Bend, Oregon
- Shoe Tree: Juntura, Oregon
- Shoe Tree: Mitchell, Oregon
- Shoe Tree: Tumalo, Oregon
- Shoe Tree: College Place, Washington