Some day I’m going to make a list of “Summit County’s Best Kept Secrets” as related to its history. It surprises me still that not everyone knows about The Signal Tree. I was recently looking for information on The Signal Tree and someone said “What’s that?”
How do you describe The Signal Tree? It is a Burr Oak tree that is between 300 and 400 years old, shaped in the form of a 3 tonged fork or candelabra. Figuring the first settlers came to this area approximately 200 years ago, means that its branch’s had to be shaped as a sapling by Native Americans. We can only speculate how and why it came to be and there are nearly as many theories as there are “experts.”
Some believe that the signal tree is a natural phenomenon. You only need look at the branches that are symmetrically bent at right angles to realize that this would truly be a most miraculous occurrence. That means, as stated before, that the tree had to be broken, bent, and formed into its unique shape. The question then becomes: why?
One of the lesser known theories is that it is a monument to a victory of a battle between warring parties. That same author says that it is actually the second marker, to replace a previous tree that had lived its life or been destroyed.
Another theory is that when the tree was a sapling, local tribes used the tree to stretch animal skins on for processing.
By far the most popular belief is that it was a marker to show the way to another area or trail, hence its name, The Signal Tree. Summit County is the intersection of many major routes that cross the state. It is true today and it was true 300-400 years ago. (I’m working on creating a map of the area that would be Summit County and all its trails, circa 1700.) One theory is that the Signal Tree was formed at the intersection of two main trials.
Most people agree that it marked the path to the Portage Trail from the Cuyahoga River. The river over centuries of time will wander form one side of the valley to the other (today it is being confined in some areas.) At the time the tree was formed, the Cuyahoga may have ran much closer, even next to, the Signal Tree.
What ever the reason, when you approach the tree you realize that you are in the percents of an object that if it could talk would be able to tell you of a time when there was no asphalt, and no motor vehicles. Yet hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people passed by it. What other stories could it tell.
Summit County’s oldest living landmark (?) is located off Cuyahoga Street in the Cascade Valley Metro Park. Not normally one of the places that you would pass on a “Sunday drive” through the valley, it is more a place that you have to search out. That makes finding it that much more exciting.
The book “The Cuyahoga” was first written in 1966, and Chapter 6 is titled The Signal Tree. When it written then, it was stated that the tree was near death and ready to fall down. The old girl is still hanging on. Several branches have fallen over the years, but the limbs that give it its characteristic candelabra shape are still there. For how much longer no one knows. We should all be (I know I am) very grateful to the park service for preserving it so well.
If you haven’t seen it, go soon!
It truly is one of Summit County’s best kept secrets.