Cherry Blossom Time

Mention cherry blossoms and visions of Washington, D.C., immediately come to mind. However, you don’t need to travel to the nation’s capital to see the clouds of pink blossoms. East Front Street in Marietta becomes a sea of pink each spring.

April ushers in spring blooms such as the pink blossoms that define varieties of Japanese cherry trees. Marietta’s trees exist as a result of a beautification project spearheaded by one-time resident, James Sagris, in the early ’90s.

To be honest, I had never seen Marietta’s cherry blossoms until last year, when, while traveling back to Lancaster on Route 441 on a day in mid-April, I instead headed into Marietta. The cherry blossoms were at their peak and, as promised, they were a sight to behold. Two bicycle riders, who had stopped to admire the show, shared that the rider from D.C. (of all places) had suggested to his riding partner from Lititz that they spend the day in Marietta. “I didn’t know all this was here,” the Lititz resident said of the river trail and the cherry blossoms. “It took a guy from D.C. to clue me in!” 

I wondered how the trees came to be and noticed a woman painting the scene. I recognized her as Marita Hines, the owner of MH Art Gallery and one of the founders of Marietta Art Alive. I walked over to say hello and ask if she knew their origins. She mentioned a man’s name as being the motivating factor behind their appearance. 

Intrigued, I did some online research, which divulged the name Marita had mentioned: James Sagris. According to The Marietta Traveler, Sagris, a native of Sheffield, Massachusetts, moved to the river town in the late ’80s. Sagris was a heralded artist whose expertise centered on restoring ceramics. In fact, according to a newsletter published by the Sheffield Historical Society in 1981, Sagris was regarded as among the top dozen restorationists at the time and had been commissioned to do restoration work for the White House and the State Department. Could being in closer proximity to Washington have brought him to Marietta? Marita says that could be, but as she recalls, he had friends who lived in Marietta. “He was an interesting guy,” she says of getting to know Sagris. 

Sagris purchased a house along East Front Street and planted some cherry trees in the front yard, which garnered the attention of townspeople. Soon, they began asking where they could get their own cherry trees. Apparently, that sparked an idea. Sagris proposed a beautification project that hinged on the idea of planting cherry trees along Front Street. 

This is where it gets a little murky. According to Bob Heiserman, who operates Donegal Real Estate, Sagris’s proposal had some red tape connected to it. In reality, the grassy bank on the river side of Front Street is owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad. Since the late ’90s, the Marietta Area Business Association (MABA) has leased the strip of land and has maintained it with the help of volunteers. “I’ve mowed it for 25 years,” Bob notes. How Sagris, who Bob remembers as being “an amazing talent and a unique person,” managed to gain the permission of Norfolk Southern to plant the trees, he’s not certain. “To be honest, I don’t remember them being planted,” he admits. 

The trees, which are beginning to show their age, are maintained by the Marietta Area Business Association (MABA). The organization has developed a game plan for replacing trees, as needed, and moving the tree line back 5 feet.

Bob then placed a phone call to a longtime resident, Vivian Carroll. Vivian recalled that the Kwanzan cherry trees used in the beautification project could be purchased by townspeople in honor of family and friends who had passed away. (A plaque across from Sagris’s former home salutes his efforts.) She also remembered that the trees were about 5-feet-tall and the project took about three years to complete. Estimates of the number of trees that were planted range from 100 to 250. Neither Marita or Bob know what became of James Sagris. Online searches come up empty. However, a real estate summary of 48 East Front Street (Sagris’s address) indicates it was sold in October 1993. 

Bob did share some disheartening news about the trees. Despite regular maintenance, the trees are beginning to show their age. Various websites pinpoint their lifespan to 15 to 25 years, which, based on an estimated planting time, means Marietta’s trees have well surpassed that timeframe. “We’re working on a game plan,” says Bob of the Marietta Beautification Committee (an arm of MABA), which aims to replace the diseased trees with new stock, as well as move the tree line back about 5 feet. (Another group, The Marietta Shade Tree Commission, is working to preserve the health of the river trail’s woodland, as well as beautify Marietta’s streets with trees.) 

In spring, the combination of cherry blossoms, the river trail, restaurants and shops attracts visitors to Marietta.

“It’s such a nice attraction,” Bob says of the cherry trees. “I’d hate to see them go away.” With that said, this may be the year to “think pink” and embrace the Japanese custom of taking a day to unwind, enjoy a picnic and appreciate the beauty of the cherry blossoms. 

River Towns Plein Air 2024

Marietta is home to a growing art event that represents a brushstroke of spring for artists and art lovers alike. 

Four years ago, Marita Hines, Marianne Calenda, Melissa W. Carroll, Susan Divitti Darling, Linda Mylin Ross and Joanne McIlvaine, the founders of Marietta Art Alive, had an idea to host a plein air event in the vicinity of Marietta. The Susquehanna River, tree-shrouded hills, history, period architecture, gorgeous gardens … the subject matter would be unlimited. The reaction they received to their “call for artists” indicated they had a hit in the making. The response of the invitation they issued to the public to see and purchase the resulting art was almost overwhelming. “We were flabbergasted,” says Marita of the crowds that poured into the town’s community building during the two-day show. “The room was constantly packed. A lot of art was sold,” Marita says. “I’ve been to plein air events that barely sold anything.” (Last year, 230 pieces of art were exhibited.) 

She credits the interest in the work that results from the event to its local focus. “People get a kick out of seeing their house, yard or another familiar site become the subject of a painting and want to buy it,” she says. She also points out that such exhibits attract seasoned and neophyte collectors alike. 

The cherry blossoms are always a favorite subject of artists taking part in the annual plein air event, which is being held April 10-17. Here, Joanne McIlvaine and Marita Hines (above) capture their essence.

The event, which has grown in scope over the ensuing years, also brings a sense of pride to Marietta. “People get involved by hosting artists from out of the area in their homes,” Marita reports. “And, it helps the local economy. Artists and visitors frequent the shops and restaurants.” A percentage of the entry fees and sales of art benefits the nonprofit organization, Rivertownes PA, USA.  

En Plein Air Painting became popular in Europe in the early 1800s. Thanks to the development of portable easels, canvases and oil paint encased in tubes, artists could more easily move into the outdoors and capture cloud formations, light quality, shadows and colors in real time and not from memory in their studios. Monet’s paintings that depict the water lily gardens at his home in Giverny and the iconic paintings that capture the mystical riverscapes of the East Coast or the majesty of the American West are examples of en plein air paintings. 

According to Marita, landscapes such as the Grand Canyon, the beaches of Florida, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, etc., provide the backdrops for modern-day plein air events that attract artists from all over the country. “One of the biggest is held in Easton, Maryland,” she says, adding, “We hope to share in the success of such events.” 

Marita notes that a friend from Lancaster, Beth Bathe, travels to quite a few plein air events. “It’s a nice way to paint,” she says of her own experiences, pointing out the travel aspect, social connections, the community support and the pleasure of being outdoors all add to the enjoyment of taking part. “It’s a way to get known nationally, too,” she observes. However, it’s not all sunshine and breathtaking sunsets. Sometimes Mother Nature does not cooperate. “Let’s see,” says Martita. “We’ve had to deal with high winds and cold temperatures, but thankfully never any snow.” 

Of course, this being the 21st century, there are publications, social media sites and clubs for plein air enthusiasts. Marita notes there are plein air groups that meet and paint together in Lancaster. “It’s fun to watch people’s progress,” she says of the camaraderie that develops. 

This year’s event, which is open to artists over the age of 18, will have a juried format. Entries were due in mid-February, after which the juried process got underway to select the participants. As has been the tradition, half the artists will come from Lancaster and York counties. Painting dates are April 10-17. This year, the river will be the focus of the event, and artists are invited to set up their easels along the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail (from the Falmouth Boat Launch south), as well as at sites such as Nissley Vineyards and the Washington Boro riverfront. In York County, the designated area extends from north of Wrightsville, south to below Long Level, as well as locations such as Samuel S. Lewis State Park. 

MABA leases the strip of land that separates Front Street from the river from Norfolk Southern Railroad.

A Quick Draw event, which is open to any artist over the age of 18, will be held in Marietta on April 13.     

The exhibit/sale of artwork will be held at Studio 264 (rear of 264 West Market Street), April 18-21 (Thursday, 7-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.). 

Visit mariettaartalive.com for details about the plein air event.  For information about exhibits and workshops being held at MH Art Gallery, visit mhartgallery.com. 

Lancaster’s Gift From Japan 

Photo courtesy of Nissin Foods USA. Note: the facility is not open to the public.

Front Street in Marietta isn’t the only location in Lancaster that is resplendent in pink blossoms each spring. With more than 80 cherry trees on site, Nissin Foods, located off Route 30 and Centerville Road, brings a moment of beauty to Lancaster when the trees reach peak bloom in April. Nissin Foods’ founder Momofuku Ando’s wife, Masako, imported the trees from Japan and planted them at the facility in an effort to introduce Japanese culture and heritage to the Lancaster-based Nissin employees and community.

Marietta Cherry Blossom Benefit Music Festival

April 13, 1-6 p.m.

Here’s your chance to spend a spring afternoon in Marietta and help the cause for saving Front Street’s cherry trees. As luck would have it, last year the blossoms were in full bloom on the day of the inaugural festival and, according to Joey Bowden, the owner of the Railroad House, “fingers are crossed it will work out again this year.”

The event, which is held along East Front Street, will feature vendors, artisans and food trucks, along with two stages of live music. Restaurants will feature cherry blossom-themed menu items and drinks. The sale of mugs will benefit the restoration project being undertaken on behalf of the cherry trees.

For details, visit “Discover Marietta, PA” on Facebook and Instagram.

Cheers to Cherry Blossoms 

“Think pink” extends beyond cherry blossoms at this time of year. Think rosé wine, cosmos and other libations. Last year, in support of the Cherry Blossom Festival, The Marietta Traveler published a recipe for a drink called the River Flower Martini. 


  • 2 oz. dry gin 
  • 1/2 oz. St. Germain (elderflower liqueur) 
  • 1.5 oz. sour (or equal parts lemon, lime, sugar and water)
  • Dash of Maraschino cherry juice (preferably Luxardo cherry juice) 


Shake ingredients on ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *