Cherry Tree is named for a large wild black cherry tree that marked the site known to the local Native Americans as Canoe Place. This was as far upstream on the West Branch Susquehanna River as a canoe could navigate. With the Land Purchase from the Six Nations of 1768, this same tree marked the point on the John Penn family's land where the boundary stopped following the Susquehanna and turned west to follow a straight line overland to Kittanning on the Allegheny River. The tree also marked the point at which Indiana, Clearfield, and Cambria counties met. The landmark tree ultimately washed away in a flood, but it is commemorated in the borough by a rusticated stone column designed by the E. R. Carr Company of Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1894.
Logging, the first major industry in Cherry Tree, peaked in 1870. When the Pennsylvania and the New York Central railroads collaborated to build the Cherry Tree and Dixonville Railroad to service the rich coal fields of Indiana County, Cherry Tree prospered, as did such other towns along the rail line as Commodore, Starford, Clymer, Dixonville, and Heilwood. Today, the railroad is owned by Conrail and remains in use. Flooding had long been a problem for Cherry Tree, which straddles the confluence of the West Branch Susquehanna River and Cush Cushion Creek. A flood control project consisting of a series of levees and earthworks begun in the 1940s was rehabilitated in the 1970s, and again in the 1990s. The grass-covered slopes of the earthworks are more parklike than intrusive.
Cherry Tree remains a residential community with a small commercial core centered on the intersection of Cherry and Main streets and anchored by First Commonwealth Bank in a handsome two-story brick building with arched windows (c. 1900; 11 Main Street). Reflecting the prosperity of the lumbering era are a number of frame Greek Revival and Italianate houses with distinctive wide, paneled corner boards with capitals and bracketed eaves, such as the Porter Kinports House (c. 1872; 161 Front Street). At least four other buildings in Cherry Tree have similar details: 131 Main Street, Main Street at the Creek, 10 Maple Street, and Cherry Tree Presbyterian Church (1856; 121 Front Street). In addition, the triangular window in the attic gable end, unusual for its size and shape, on the Kinports House, is found on two other houses in town: 110 and 101 Main Street.
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