December 4, 2016

1916: The Plaza's (& AZ's) First Christmas Tree


1916 was an auspicious year for Prescott's Courthouse Plaza. In October, the cornerstone was laid for the brand new (and current) Courthouse.

Later, as Christmas approached, citizens as well as the Chamber of Commerce, thought it would be an excellent idea to erect a municipal Christmas tree in the plaza.

A meeting was held December 18th with the chamber, local ministers, and city officials, where "the opinion was unanimous in favor of the big tree." (*1)

There were to be lights, decorations, candy, toys and charity baskets for every worthy, poor family in the city.

The newspaper proudly crowed: "Prescott will be the first city in the entire State of Arizona to hold a big municipal tree." (*1)

...That is, if they could get all the plans completed in less than a week!

"Santa Claus has been casting his glance over the northern part of the State for an appropriate place to stop, and that place is the Prescott Plaza. The plan for holding the first municipal Christmas tree in the State became firmly planted in the minds and hearts of Prescott's citizens," the paper announced.

Christmas Ad, 1916: Mountain Telephone & Telegraph.
 "Everyone is to have a share in this tree," it was reported, "and for that reason, it will be termed the municipal tree. Permission has been secured from the United States Forestry Office to cut one of Yavapai's big pines which will be brought into the city and placed in the center of the plaza. The decorating will be taken care of by the city and the Arizona Power Company." (*1)

People couldn't wait to donate for the Municipal Christmas Tree "as the members (of the fund raising committee) are stopped on every hand by people who deem it a real privilege to have a part in this, the first real Christmas Prescott has ever celebrated as a unit," the proud paper reported. (*2)

"That the spirit of the occasion is growing among all of Prescott's citizens is evidenced from the fact that contributions (ranged) from 15 cents to $25." (*2)

After only a few short hours, the municipal tree fund had grown to $125. (*3) In less than a week, $400 was eventually collected--more than enough for the need. (*4)

"Each and every one is looking forward with no small degree of pleasure to the time when the big tree, with its...beautifully colored lights and decorations will be lighted and the singing of Christmas carols will echo back and forth from the mountains." (*3)

Christmas Ad, 1916:
M. Goldwater & Bro.
The City Clerk "made arrangements for the bringing in of one of the largest and most stately of Yavapai's spruce and this will be placed near the band stand on the plaza, where the Christmas program will be held," the paper reported. "Over 100 beautiful colored lights will be placed on the tree by the Arizona Power Company, and these together with the decorations will make of the first Municipal Christmas Tree a scene of beauty never to be forgotten." (*3)

Today, the idea of 100 lights on a huge, 3-story tall Christmas tree seems paltry and even comical, but back in the 1910's, seeing 100 colored, electrical lights burning at once was novel and quite the spectacle. (*4)

"Each branch will be loaded down with toys and candy to make the little ones happy and underneath its laden bows will be stacked groceries, meats and other household necessities which will be distributed among families of the poor so that their Christmas tables will be set with all the delicacies that go to make a joyous Christmas." (*4)

Baskets were packed for the needy families and were "numbered in such a way that only the chairman of the committee in each district will know the names of the people to whom they are to be taken...by the Boy Scouts after the exercises on the plaza. Thus no publicity is to be given to the distribution and it is now practically an assured fact that no home in Prescott will be without Christmas cheer this year." (*2)

Christmas Ad, 1916: Samuel Hill Hardware
"Dolls for the little girls, tops, marbles and coaster-wagons for the boys all have been generously donated by merchants of the city. And not only have the children been provided for. Warm shoes and wraps for everyone whose name was handed to the committee were purchased and will be distributed." (*4)

"Although the worthy project was started less than a week (before Christmas,) through the combined efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, Boy Scouts, Ministers' Association, Associated Charities and the City of Prescott, the work progressed with rapid strides and by 10:00pm (the 23rd,) everything was in readiness." (*4)

It seems the Lord himself was pleased with the endeavor, giving Prescott a rare white Christmas that provided a glimmering "frosting" on top of the beautiful scene. (*5)

"Mingled with the soft patter of falling snow and the murmur of the wind though the trees, glad voices were lifted upon the air and carried straight to the hearts of the 75 or 100 people who attended the excercises of the first out-of-door municipal Christmas tree ever held in the State of Arizona," the paper said. "Short addresses by the men who originated the Municipal Christmas Tree (event) and a (musical) solo comprised the services that took place on the plaza this memorable Christmas Eve." (*6)

Combined choirs sang "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Silent Night." (*4)

"While the entertainment was going on, the Boy Scouts...carried load after load and basket after basket to the homes of the poor and worthy in Prescott. No one was too old or too young to be forgotten and if there is one worthy soul in Prescott today which was not made happier for the arrival of Christmas, then he or she is hard to please." (*6)

It took the Boy Scouts until midnight to distribute all the charity. (*5)



Prescott LOVED her Scouts! They were the first in the state! Here's the story of their founding and their surprising early history.



Despite the short time to prepare, the entire program was accomplished beautifully, without the slightest complication.

It was one of the very best and proudest Christmases in Prescott history.

"The municipal Christmas tree was such a success that it will probably be repeated again next year when more time and preparation will be given," the newspaper said in retrospect. (*6)

Indeed, Prescott's Courthouse Lighting has only grown over the years to include parades, crowds in the thousands, and infinitely more than 100 lights! Perhaps more than any other, it was this hurried idea, Christmas 1916, that would firmly place Prescott on the path to being named "Arizona's Christmas City."

CLICK HERE for all the Christmas Themed Prescott AZ History Articles

Tourist Tip:
Come the first weekend in December to the modern Courthouse Lighting in Prescott! At the same time, Sharlot Hall Museum offers a special Christmas event. Finally, be sure to take time to shop the local downtown stores for some unique holiday gift ideas!




SOURCES:
(*1) Prescott Journal-Miner; 12/19/1916 Pg. 4, Col. 1.
(*2) Prescott Journal-Miner; 12/23/1916 Pg. 6, Col. 2.
(*3) Prescott Journal-Miner; 12/21/1916 Pg. 5, Col. 4.
(*4) Prescott Journal-Miner; 12/24/1916 Pg. 3, Col. 3.
(*5) Prescott Journal-Miner; 12/26/1916 Pg. 3, Col. 1.
(*6) Prescott Journal-Miner; 12/26/1916 Pg. 3, Col. 3.


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