Before Central Florida became the theme park capital of the world, there was "The Senator."
"We hear stories of back in the late 1800s of folks coming by riverboat on the St. Johns taking a horse and buggy to see the Senator. The Senator was the tourist attraction back then in Central Florida," said Jim Duby, the Natural Lands Manager for Seminole County.
The Senator was the world's oldest Pond Cypress tree, and after it was destroyed by an arsonist in January, Sanford's Big Tree Park closed. Duby says his office has been flooded ever since with callers expressing grief over the lost. That's what sparked the idea to turn the remains of The Senator into art.
"I thought there's got to be some way to memorialize this icon. This 3,500-year-old tree meant so much to the community and to the people," Duby said. "We couldn't just let the wood lay there and rot."
So earlier this year, the county selected four artists for the project. According to Duby, three are local woodworkers and one is a former Central Florida resident who plans to use ashes in a ceramic glaze. The artists will be responsible for chopping and collecting the wood.
After that process, they will each submit formal proposals to the county detailing their ideas. Each artist will make two pieces. One they can keep and the other will be given to Seminole County to display. The artists will fund the project themselves.
Duby told Local 6 that The Senator's stump will remain at the park and a memorial will be created at the site for when Big Tree Park reopens.
"This gives them some form of closure and some form of legacy that they'll still be able to go to Big Tree Park and see what remains," Duby said.
Duby added that The Senator was actually cloned, and one of those trees will be brought down from north Florida sometime early next year.