Ancient oak trees in the early stages fossilization – also known as bog oak – have been discovered preserved deep in rural Adams County.
Lennie Helvie of Corning said the find was “like a dream come true.”
Helvie, owner of From the Sticks, creates custom furniture from a variety of wood, such as walnut, pine and oak. However, it’s the bog oak which is starting to attract customers from beyond the region.
A rare find
Bog wood is a type of wood in the early fossilization process, which is excavated from deep underground. Its age can vary up to 9,000 years old.
“It’s very rare,” said Helvie.
He’s not wrong.
Bog oak, which is valued for its rare color and strength, is typically found in places such as England, Ireland, Russia, Ukraine and Croatia, where conditions are more favorable to the growth of bog woods.
“It’s really old and it’s been preserved,” said Helvie.
Bog wood is created from trees that have fallen into bogs, or bog-like conditions, such as river bottoms or swamps. Lacking oxygen or sunlight for centuries, the wood undergoes a fossilization process. The outcome is fossilized wood that has more of a tone-like quality.
Helvie said the bog oak he has was discovered by workers digging in a gravel pit between Corning and Brooks. The bog wood was roughly 30 to 50 feet below the surface.
“There was probably an old, ancient river there,” said Helvie.
Helvie believes there was an oak grove at the site of the former river, which is thought to have come to a 90-degree angle. He suspects a flood washed out the embankment, causing the oak trees to fall in to the river.
“The trees would go right to the bottom and be covered by muck and sand and water,” said Helvie.
To ensure his customers receive what they pay for, Helvie said he will include certificates of authenticity with each furniture piece.
Helvie has been researching bog wood for the past year, and has sent in samples to have the wood professionally carbon-dated, which requires the measuring of radiation produced by the wood. The process is more accurate than counting rings to date a tree.
“Each year, so much radiation comes out of any organic material,” Helvie explained. “So, they can get an age by testing the radioactivity.”
One sample set of bog wood he sent to DirectAMS, a radiocarbon dating service, was found to be 3,334, give or take 10 years.
Today, bog oak is used in furniture, as tables and mantles, and used to make pens, pipes, and jewelry. Because of its strength, unique coloring, texture, and ability to resist decay for thousands of years, bog wood was popular in the 19th century. It was used to make jewelry, weaponry, ornaments, and furniture – such as a throne for Peter the Great and used in the decor of Louis XIV’s bedroom suite.
“Some say it’s the most expensive wood in the world,” said Helvie.
Helvie said some people understand its worth and he has been getting orders online from out of state customers. On April 3, he even had a stack of it stolen.
“It was a bad deal,” said Helvie.
The wood, which took him close to six months to air-dry, was taken the night before it was set to be delivered to a customer.
“I had a $65,000 order set aside to go to Omaha the next day. I went to go load it that night, and it was gone,” said Helvie.
After convincing the cops of its value, it was recovered two weeks later.
“I thought I was done for,” said Helvie.
From the Sticks
Helvie describes his custom furniture as having a defined, rustic style that carries an emphasis on the wood’s rugged, natural beauty.
“It embraces nature-inspired textures, simple and earthy colors, and ultimately an unpretentious, organic warmth,” said Helvie.
To inquire about his art or custom furniture, contact Helvie at From the Sticks on Facebook or call him at 641-344-3327.