Since last week I’ve had the first verse and chorus of Anthony Cruz’ Half Way Tree (2005) song playing in my head non-stop:
When yuh waan fi meet a country girl
When yuh waan fi meet a uptown girl
When yuh waan meet girls weh work a bank, girls weh love top rank
Jus go outta Half Way Tree
Outta NCB, right side a di clock
Outta Half Way Tree
Roun a Mother’s weh do Portmore bus dem come stop
Outta Half Way Tree
Girls weh brown, girls weh black, girls weh slim, girls weh fat
Outta Half Way Tree
Right a Burger King or down a Tastee
Here’s the video:
While Anthony Cruz was expressing how Half Way Tree was like a melting pot of the different types of women in Jamaica, his song does reflect the historical importance of Half Way Tree: a junction of not only several important roads in Kingston and St Andrew; but also an ideal meeting spot.
Origin of the Name Half Way Tree
Half Way Tree got its name from a large cotton tree that once stood there from the time of the Spanish conquest of Jamaica (and possibly before). So when did the tree stop existing? Two sources I checked claimed the tree died of old age in the 1860s or 1870s (Cundall 1915; Senior 2003). However, an article in The Gleaner for Thursday, February 27, 1913, pg. 3, reports that a ceremony took place to plant “a tree to take the place of the historic cotton tree, which had to be cut down in connection with the building of the Memorial Clock Tower in the capital of St. Andrew.” The article reports that “the Memorial Clock Tower Committee decided that the old cotton tree which formed a landmark in the parish for over a century should be cut down for the purpose of accommodating and facilitating that grand scheme:…” (The Gleaner for Thursday, February 27, 1913, pg. 3).
This “grand scheme” is of course in reference to the Clock Tower that now stands in the middle of Half Way Tree, which was erected by public subscription in 1913 as a memorial to King Edward VII of England. The Clock Tower straddles the junction of four major roads in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA): Constant Spring Road, Hagley Park Road, Half Way Tree Road and Hope Road.
The First Written Record of Half Way Tree
The first written record of Half Way Tree occurred in the minutes of the Council of January 4, 1696, which noted the behaviour of some prominent men who visited the tavern located in the shade of the cotton tree. The minutes noted the following: “the Governor acquainted the Board that he had been informed that Mr. Redman Maccragh, Mr. Henry Archbold, and others had assembled together att halfeway tree in the parish of St. Andrews and had oblieiged severall of His Majesty’s subjects passing that way to drink a health to the late K. James, which was lookt upon by the Board to be a great misdemeanour” (Cundall 1915, pg. 197).
Resting Halfway at Half Way Tree
In addition to once being the location of a tavern, the enormous roots of the cotton tree later provided a well-needed rest spot for market vendors between their homes in the hills and the markets in the city. A Mr Richard Hill noted in an 1890 article published in the “Victoria Quarterly” that (Cundall 1915, pg. 198):
An age of surface rains rushing to the sea three miles away had removed all the soluble earth from the platform roots, so that they made arched resting places, where the marketers coming from the mountains would rest themselves in groups for they had reached the Halfway Tree…
The cotton tree was also a rest spot for English soldiers when they were on the move from their camp in Greenwhich in the St Andrew Hills to the fort near Spanish Town. It is said the soldiers always rested at this spot before proceeding to the fort.
Half Way Tree is indeed a halfway point for many other places in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) and for those traveling to other parishes such as St Catherine. As Anthony Cruz sang, you can catch a bus to Portmore, St Catherine, from Half Way Tree. And with the new landmark, the Half Way Tree Transport Centre, you can definitely catch any bus quite easily to many locations in the KMA region, as well as to Portmore and Spanish Town in St Catherine.
Until next time…
Cundall, Frank (1915). Historic Jamaica. London: Institute of Jamaica West India Committee
Jamaicans.com. Half Way Tree.
Wikimedia Commons. Half Way Tree Clock.
Senior, Olive (2003). Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.
The Gleaner, Thursday, February 27, 1913, pg. 3