That sometime in the 1840’s there was a need for a road to be built on a bit of land, which was almost a swamp. Horses and oxen would sink in the mud and mire. At that time, the city did not provide roads, so the neighbors decided to build their own. They used stone from the local quarries for the paving; however, the land was too unstable to support stone. Discouraged by their failed efforts, one of the men suggested setting out willow trees, which easily reproduce from cuttings and were known for their rapid growth – the idea being that their roots, remarkable for their toughness, magnitude, length and tenacity of life, would meet across the road and make a foundation, thus reinforcing the road. From the swamp, they cut some willow switches. After gathering a good number of them, the men stuck the slender branches into the ground on each side of the roadway. These branches sprouted and thrived and their roots held the roadbed firm. In time, these willows, with their green and lovely plumes, became a Cape Ann landmark.
This painting was done from an old black and white photo of the Willows of Annisquam in winter at the suggestion of an older neighbor who remembers and loved the Willows. She also loaned me the Anne Kelly Lane book about the Willows. They were located on the stretch of Washington Street near where the Willow Rest and Riverdale Post Office are now, and most disappeared after a blight killed them off in the 1950’s, although if you look, you will still see a few along the roadside.
Going Thru the Willows
Two men planted twigs
On a road nearby the sea,
One by one they sprouted up
And grew into a tree
Love sought their shade at evening
And there breathed its early vows
And old and young alike
Would stroll beneath their boughs
Cape Ann loved the dangling plumes
Of the willows on the shore
But “going thru the willows”
Is now just a bit of lore?
(edited excerpts from “The Willows of Cape Ann” by Anne Kelly Lane)