y“>Because the surrounding woods reached into the backyard of nearly every resident, the Ashland committee tasked with finding a Christmas tree for the town’s 1865 celebration didn’t have to look far.
As long as the tree was installed and decorated at City Hall in time for the community festivities, which garden the pine tree came from and how tall it was didn’t really matter.
In the hallway that would eventually be replaced by today’s Odd Fellows Building in Ashland Plaza, the tree stood in the middle of a room lit by candlelight lamps on the walls.
The decoration was simple. Tables and walls were decorated with local Christmas greenery: ferns, Oregon grapes and strategically placed mistletoe.
On the tree, strings of popcorn swirled up and down the branches, along with twisted strings of colored paper in the middle. Tallow candles attached to the ends of the branches would wait to be lit and carefully watched, but only when the celebration actually began.
Ashland was still a small town with fewer than 500 residents and only 16 businesses.
Ann Russell, wife of one of those entrepreneurs, mother of 11 children and an active partner in the couple’s marble carving business, was chosen at the Christmas organizing meeting to request money to buy gifts for the children. She intentionally hadn’t even been to that meeting.
“To avoid being given something to do,” she said, “I stayed away, but they made me a committee member anyway.”
He initially refused, claiming it was unfair to name someone who had not attended the meeting. Reverend Johnson, a Methodist minister and friend who stayed with the Russells when he came to town, persuaded Ann to relent and accept her appointment.
Working with Catharine Thornton, wife of the owner of Ashland Woolen Mills, the two women raised $40. Most of the children received a small gift along with a bag of candy, but there were two more expensive gifts.
“We bought a hat for an orphan boy,” said Ann, “and a silver thimble for a girl whose mother, we feared, would be upset with a cheaper gift. These two items cost one dollar each.”
The married women of the city had conspired to give all their husbands a humorous gift to bring to the Christmas party.
“The women thought it would be a good joke,” said Ann, “to give the men ties made of brightly colored calico, red, blue, or green, tied in a bow with each end a yard long, and all fastened with a big knot. brass button.
Somehow, their secret plan was discovered and the men prepared their own surprise. Each woman was given a brightly colored apron tied with 10-foot-long strings on each side.
“Oh, the wasted calico on those strings,” Ann said.
Why wasted? “Because,” he said, “the men themselves made the aprons, which were sewn with long clumsy stitches.”
Wagon maker Bill Kentnor as Santa Claus delivered gifts to children while lumberjack Almon Gillette played music on his flute, the only musical instrument in town. Merchant John McCall sang bass; school employee Charley Klum, tenor; and farmer’s wife Martha Helman, soprano.
“Our community tree was a great success,” said Ann Russell. “We feel the Christmas spirit and spend the night together in a happy, friendly and loving way with everyone, hoping for better days to come.”
Perhaps that is exactly what we should expect today. Have a merry and merry Christmas and an even better New Year.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of six books, including “Spanning the Defiant Sea. Women Pilots Dare Atlantic Air.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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