I wish, I wish upon a tree …
The County once had a magical wishing tree, at West Lake. The tree was a famous landmark — it was said to be the largest maple tree in the world, and the last great maple east of the Rocky Mountains. It measured over 160 feet in height (that’s over 11 stories high!) and 18 feet around the girth!
The tree was gone before my lifetime, but I’ve heard the story from my parents’ and grandparents’ generation. The tree started to gain a reputation as a “wishing tree” hundreds of years ago, when it became a meeting and trading place for the Indigenous people of the area. They regarded the Wishing Tree as a peaceful and spiritual place. While the elders and tribe members met near the tree, the children would gather pieces of bark from the ground and toss them up into the tree branches. If the bark caught on a branch, it was believed that the tree would grant a wish to the thrower.
Later when European settlers came to the area they also discovered the Wishing Tree. Families gathered at the tree for picnics and outings. Couples traveled to the tree to make wishes for their future. As the population and traffic grew, the footpath to the tree was widened into a roadway that passed around the tree. In 1837 the “Wishing Tree Lodge” was built across from the tree on what is now called West Lake Road.
In the early 1900s, tourists now driving automobiles would make it a destination to have their photo taken with the legendary Wishing Tree. Unfortunately, the weight and volume of traffic around the tree was taking its toll on the tree’s large network of roots. Then in 1925, the Wishing Tree was hit by lightning. Local residents tried to prolong the tree’s life by trimming the damaged branches, but by the early 1940s the Wishing Tree finally died. When it was cut to the ground leaving only a huge stump, the growth circles of the tree were counted — confirming that the tree was 731 years old! The Wishing Tree had started its life as a sapling in around 1200AD, and its own popularity had contributed to its demise.
Lost in time, this famous landmark has now vanished. The brick lodge still stands there today, but is now a private residence. The smaller maple trees in the area are perhaps the tree’s offspring. The memories of the now vanished Wishing Tree are preserved only by photos and our local folklore.