AKRON - It stands alone, its branches like arms outstretched, near the Cuyahoga River on Akron's north side.
Its massive trunk, its age-stained bark. Its scars of the past. The Signal Tree is a spectacular sight, but it swirls in mystery.
Who was it that "forced" its growth pattern? If age estimates of 350-560 years are to be believed, it may have been Native Americans that traveled through the area in that time frame, well before settlers came to the Western Reserve.
The famous "Portage Path" is in the area, a few miles away, where American Indians portaged their canoes between the north-flowing Cuyahoga River to the south-flowing Tuscarawas River. Indigenous peoples are known to use strangely shaped trees as boundary markers or directional landmarks, and as gathering places for ceremonies.
Seeing the tree today does invite the imagination to wander. According to Mike Greene of Summit Metroparks, there really is no way to confirm any of the legends.
"The key is determining its age," he said. "The tree may be ancient, or it may younger. No one knows because there are very few mentions of the oddly shaped tree in historic records."
For about a hundred years before the Summit Metroparks established the park on land owned by the city of Akron, the tree was located in an area that was dotted with residences. There were farms, and even a junkyard that was active into the 1960s. There are some early photos of the tree, but none have surfaced before the first half on the 20th century.
It's a calming place, and begs the mind to wander. Did Native Americans meet here or hold ceremonies around the tree? Did Civil War soldiers march by it? Did the workers and people who traveled along the Ohio and Erie Canal, which runs right through Akron, stop here?
The tree has seen Akron change from agricultural center to canal town to a manufacturing mecca during the Industrial Revolution. It's seen Akron grow to be the Rubber Capitol of the world, as well as its demise, and the rubber shops and surrounding manufacturing closed. Still, the whole while, standing in the Cuyahoga Valley with arms outstretched.
Now, it's witnessing a rebirth of the area once again. Still growing. Still standing tall, as it has for centuries.
It not only holds memories, but makes them as well. I remember seeing it in the 1970s as a kid, and walking past it on my way to the river to fish with family and friends. I still make trips to sit by the tree. It's a great place to think and let the stresses of the day escape.
I invite anyone who has visited the tree to share your story in the comments section of the WKYC Facebook page. The tree has made memories for so many over the years. What are yours?
If you have a unique story you'd like to share with WKYC, send Carl Bachtel an email at CBachtel@wkyc.com.
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