Ever have one of those moments when you realize you’re really not impressed with something you have wanted to visit for a long time?
That was my feeling as the Cherry Tree Monument came into view. Ever since I read about it in the late 1980s, it had been on my list of places to visit, but I never had a reason to head into that part of the state.
Now that I was here, I was filled with mixed feelings about the monument. I tried to find the reason why I felt the way as I suddenly felt unimpressed by the shaft of stone. Maybe part of it was due to the writings of George Swetnam who often praised it as a grand monument that should be visited. Maybe it was due to older pictures I had looked at which had trees, bushes, and flowers surrounding it and now there were no signs of these plants as they had been removed at some point in the past. Or maybe because the monument had a much deeper, divisive meaning that was bothering me at the moment.
“Is that what you’re looking for?” mom asked as I parked along Route 580, at the park along Front and Maple Streets. From the sound of her voice, I could tell she was about as impressed with it as I was.
“Yes,” I replied as I got out of the vehicle. Although the memorial was not as impressive as I thought it would be, I had made the trip to visit the monument, so I followed the sidewalk toward the monument to read the words inscribed on it.
The community of Cherry Tree is noted as being located in Indiana County, though the community spreads into Cambria and Clearfield Counties. It was originally known as Canoe Place by the Native Americans, because this was the place where the West Branch of the Susquehanna River could no longer be traveled on. Canoes would be removed from the West Branch and portaged west to the waters of the Alleghany River at Kittanning. The name Cherry Tree was officially adopted in 1907, taking its name from a large cherry tree that once stood at the confluence of Cush Cushion Creek and the West Branch. The monument was to celebrate the importance of the Cherry Tree that once stood here and gave the community its name.
Before I arrived at the monument, I first stopped at another monument that stood guarded by the American flag which flapped lazily in the breeze. This memorial was dedicated to those who had served in the Armed Forces. Engraved in the black granite was the first initial and last name of those from the region who served over the years.
Leaving it, I continued toward the Cherry Tree Monument. I made my way up the handful of steps, which needed repairs, and carefully crossed the grassy knoll which was filled with holes due to erosion and wild animals.
Standing at the junction of Indiana, Clearfield, and Cambria Counties, the base is marked with the name of the county which it faces. The Cambria County side provides no information, while the Clearfield County side has a plaque about the monument’s rededication in 1987. However, it was the Indiana County side of the monument that records: “This monument / Erected to mark Canoe Place / The corner of the / Properties purchased / From the Indians / By the treaty at Fort Stanwix N.Y. / November 5, 1768.” Beneath this dedication was the word “Indiana” for the Indiana County side of the monument and below that a canoe.
The monument was erected near the site of the ancient cherry tree, which was used as a boundary marker for the boundary set forth by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. The treaty between the Iroquois and British was to place a boundary between the Native Americans and the British settlers who continued to push westward. While the British and the Iroquois recognized the treaty, none of those living in the region – such as the Delaware and the Shawnee – had say in the treaty and refused to recognize it. The treaty actually created more violence on the Pennsylvania frontier than peace.
The community of Canoe Place was established at the spot around 1822, with a post office forming in 1830. By the late 1830s, the cherry tree had been washed away. In its final years – due to the stream and river shifting and the eroding of the ground – the tree stood on its own little island in the confluence of the two waterways.
In the late 1800s, the community decided to erect a monument at the junction of the three counties to mark the spot of the western border as set forth in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. It would be erected at the spot where the cherry tree once stood. On November 5, 1894, it was dedicated and in 1922 a circular wall was erected to stabilize the monument.
After studying it for a couple of minutes, I walked away from it with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I saw the monument as a part of Pennsylvania’s creation. It marked the expansion of the state borders and opened new lands for settlement. On the other, I saw the destruction of the cultures that once existed here as the European settlers forced their way deeper into Penn’s Woods.
Mom did not speak as I plopped back down in the vehicle. I had no words as I drove away from a monument that not only marks the creation of a state, but the destruction of a culture.