Recently a reader reminded me of several reasons for their popularity.
I remember that most families had cedar chests in their homes. Many still do. People had valuable clothing, especially sweaters, which needed to be protected from insects. Professional storage facilities were not available to them. Storing these items in furniture made from cedar offered the best protection. In addition to furniture, some homeowners had entire walls in their houses made of cedar because of the beauty of the lumber.
A reader tells me that one reason for planting cedars next to the house was that they repelled mosquitoes and other insects. Next time we have a barbecue I’ll try it under a cedar tree to see if it works.
The tree provided shady areas throughout the year, especially during the winter months. Many of the early settlers planted cedar trees on the north side of the house in order to serve as windbreaks against strong northerly winds. In times of severe drought people have been encouraged to plant red cedar trees as windbreaks to keep soil from blowing away.
The Eastern Red Cedar, which is common in this area, is also known as red juniper. The tree is very sturdy and grows well in all areas of the state including prairies. They have fibrous root systems that make them very useful against soil erosion and are usually the first trees that grow in recently cleared areas.
Many of the old number 2 pencils we used at school were made with red cedar wood and they had that distinctive smell.
I remember using the small branches from the tree as fuel. Cedar leaves and branches burn like kerosene. Old-timers would throw a few small branches in the fire to keep the fire going and the scent would repel mosquitoes.
Baton Rouge was named from the French words “red stick.” Supposedly American Indians used red cedar to make poles as tribal territory boundary markers and one of these poles was at the location for which Louisiana’s capital is named.
Rural families did not have the luxury or finances for going to the local superstore to buy artificial Christmas trees or visit a tree farm to buy a live one. Part of the Christmas celebration was tree hunting. Family members would walk on the farm and select the nicest evergreen tree they could find and it was usually the nearly perfect red cedar tree growing along the fence line.
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