This old sketch depicts the tree as a prominent early feature on the Hanley farm, once known as “The Willows.”

History in green

CENTRAL POINT — The weeping willow is gnarly and hoary, its bark having grown thick and calloused since it was planted at Hanley Farm in 1860.

And it no longer stands vertically, having settled back into the earth after it partially gave way to gravity in 1940.

Yet its currently emerging bright green leaves are testimony that Oregon's newest heritage trees are still growing.

"The tree is somewhat recumbent but it is still very much alive," observed Medford resident Nancy Appling Salucci, chairwoman of the Oregon Heritage Tree Committee.

"And it has such a fascinating history," she added. "It's wonderful to see historic trees like this preserved."

The tree, along with the towering silver maple planted about the same time at Seven Oaks Farm in Central Point, were recently designated Oregon heritage trees. Salucci nominated both trees for the designation.

"The silver maple was planted to provide shade to the log cabin when it was a stage stop between Yreka and Gold Hill," Salucci said. "That tree has been well preserved by the Bohnert family, which has had the Seven Oaks Farm for many years."

A public dedication ceremony for both heritage trees will be held Friday, April 11.

The event begins at 1 p.m. at the Hanley Farm, 1053 Hanley Road, followed by a 3 p.m. ceremony at Seven Oaks Farm at 5504 Rogue Valley Highway. Tours of the Hanley farm begin at noon. There is no charge for either event.

During the Hanley farm ceremony, the committee will also announce two other 2008 Oregon heritage tree designations, including one in Columbia City and the other in Falls City. The committee is under the auspices of the Oregon Travel Information Council.

Established to promote public awareness of trees in Oregon's history, Oregon's state-sponsored heritage tree program is the first of its kind in the nation.

The Hanley farm willow arrived as a young sapling stuck in a potato that had been carried to Hanley farm in a saddlebag from the Willamette Valley, said Stephanie Butler, the interim director of the Southern Oregon Historical Society which now maintains the farm.

The land was originally purchased by Michael Hanley in 1857 with the original portion of the farmhouse built in the 1860s. When Mary Love Hanley, a great niece of Michael and Martha Hanley, died in 1986, she left the historic farm to SOHS.

"Martha Burnett Hanley obtained the willow cutting from a famous willow tree that grew next to the old Llewellyn place in Milwaukie (Ore.)," Butler said, noting it was planted to commemorate the birth of the Hanleys' first son.

"Martha's friend, Kit Kearny, a former Pony Express rider, brought it down to her," Butler said. "To keep it fresh, he put it in the end of a potato."

The willow was a descendant of one which the Llewllyn family brought over the Oregon Trail in 1847, Butler said, noting the family brought two wagons, including one that carried 700 fruit and shade trees, shrubs and vines.

"During their seven-month journey, the Llewllyn's begged for water for their plants and often went thirsty themselves so their plants would survive," she said, adding that more than half the stock survived. The Llewllyns started the first nursery in Oregon, she said.

The tree, planted in the rich soil near where an old spring house now stands, grew so well that the Hanley farm was originally known as "The Willows," she said.

SOHS has a lithograph drawing of the farm from the late 1800s which shows the weeping willow as a prominent feature in the Hanley farmyard.

Hanley family legend has it that when a significant member of the family died, the tree would shed a large limb or worse, Butler said.

"When Alice Hanley died in 1940, the tree fell over," she said, referring to the year the tree was nearly uprooted.

But the tree didn't fall all the way to the ground. A wooden brace was placed some 15 feet down its trunk to provide support for the old pioneer.

Over at Seven Oaks Farm, the silver maple is now 92 feet tall with a trunk circumference at chest height of more than 19 feet, according Doreen Bohnert Bradshaw, owner of the farm that has been in her family for about a century. Her grandfather, William Bohnert, brought the family to the Rogue Valley in the late 1800s.

The old cabin near where the tree was planted still stands, said Bradshaw, 72.

"My dad always said there was a stage stop here," she said. "We've found signs of it as well as the old summer road that went right past the tree."

To protect the historic tree, the family has moved its popular farm produce stand away from its base, she said.

"We think it's neat to have a heritage tree," she said. "The tree is so huge. People love it."

For more information on heritage trees, check out the Oregon Travel Information Council at online.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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