FALLON — A landmark tree filled with dangling shoes, boots and sneakers that served as a popular stopping point for travelers in Northern Nevada was chopped down by vandals, leaving merchants concerned that business would suffer in the isolated area.
The 70-foot cottonwood tree along U.S. 50 in Middlegate was cut down late last week, the Lahontan Valley News reported Tuesday.
“There are a lot of angry people,” bartender Travis Anderton told the newspaper. “That helps out business. People come out to see the shoe tree.”
Anderton learned of the vandalism from customers who stopped at Old Middlegate Station, a combination bar, restaurant, campground and motel about a mile from the shoe tree and about 50 miles east of Fallon.
“I am curious why someone wants to do that,” Anderton said.
The tree along what has been called the loneliest road in America has been an attraction for decades. Sneakers, cowboy boots, high heels, flip-flops, sandals, clogs — even fishing waders and roller skates — hung in tangled clumps from its branches.
The Churchill County sheriff’s office was investigating the vandalism.
Anderton’s grandmother, Fredda Stevenson, is planning a Feb. 13 memorial at the site.
Stevenson, co-owner of the Middlegate Station, traced the origin of the shoe tree to honeymooners driving the highway in 1987. She told her version to the Review-Journal last year:
Honeymooners were driving down the highway in 1987. The bride had blown all their money gambling in Reno, and the groom was boiling mad. Tired of listening to his complaints, she told him she was going to walk home. The groom grabbed her shoes and threw them into the tree. Then he drove down to the Middlegate Station for a beer to cool off and told Stevenson what happened. She gave him some advice:
“If you want to be happy the rest of your life, go back and say you are sorry. Learn now to forgive her.”
So the groom returned to the tree and apologized. His wife agreed to put their quarrel in the past — but only if he first threw his shoes into the tree. He did.
Another version of the tree’s legend dates to bickering newlyweds in Reno in the 1940s. As their quarrel intensified, the bride demanded her groom stop the car. He parked under the cottonwood. When she threatened to get out and start walking, he pulled off her shoes, tied the laces together and threw the pair into the tree.