History of Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers' Association
Growing Christmas Trees as a farm crop seems to have started in Indiana County, PA in the years following 1918. Murray C. Stewart, Sam Dible, Walter Schroth, Silas Streams, Fred Musser, and others were first to plant various pines and spruces for the purpose of Christmas Trees.
In 1944 a group of Christmas Tree Growers had organized the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association. Murray C. Stewart of Homer City was its first president.
In 1957 a National Christmas Tree Association was founded and Murray C. Stewart served as its first president.
On March 5, 1956 the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association was organized in Indiana with 178 attending the meeting. Douglas A. Malcolm served as the first president. The by-laws were written by the following: Clair Wassau, Sam Dible, Roy Orr, Roy Fleming, Bill Stevens, Doug Malcolm, Beryl Johnston, Percial Park, Regis McKnight and Louis Long. This organization has been active for more than 52 years promoting the production of high quality Christmas Trees, marketing them at fair profit and having them reach the consumer at prices as reasonable as possible. Also in 1956 the idea for a motorized Christmas Tree Baler was started in a service station in Creekside, Indiana County. The idea was that of Beryl Johnston, Board Member and his father Clair. During the Winter of 1956 work began, experimenting through trial and error. It was not until 1959 that the first baler was used in the field. The Balers were produced and sold beginning in 1960. Somewhere between 100 and 200 Balers were made. The last baler was made around 1968. The first "Johnston Baler" produced in 1959 is still in use at Johnston's Nursery.
Although the County Association is not officially affiliated with the PA Christmas Tree Grower Association, a warm fraternal and cooperative relationship exists. Many members of the County Association are also member of the State Association. Exchange of information through Association meetings helps to maintain a high level of culture.
Christmas Trees from 1918-1944 were naturally grown. Shearing trees did not really start till around 1944. In 1945 County Agent Jack Warner gave a tree shearing demonstration. Hedge shears or a sharp pocket knife were the first tools of choice. Trees were only sheared every 2 years.
On June 8, 1954 another tree shearing demonstration was held in Aultman. The second one that month was held on Beryl Johnston's Farm by Sam Dible using a hand-held grass sickles. Today most all Christmas Trees are sheared every year.
In 1957 the Indiana County Tree Growers cut a 53 year old Norway Spruce 71 feet high in early December on the farm of Robert S. Uncapher and sent it to be used as a Christmas Tree at the Gateway Center, Pittsburgh. In 1958 and 1959 The Gateway trees were cut at the Cyrus Pershing Wissingers Farm in Willet.
In 1961 The Candle Stick Tours began in late May. The event comes at a time when the light green new growth of the Christmas Trees (mainly pines) stands out like a candle at the end of each branch. Bus and car loads of visitors tour various tree plantations.
In 1963 Christmas Trees were sent to decorate the halls of Congress.
In 1964 the first Indiana County Christmas Tree Festival was held during the Candle Stick tour. Visitors had the opportunity not only to enjoy a Tree Farm Tour, but also view Antique Autos, attend a Gun and Coin Show, a Corn Planter Indiana Show, Square Dancing, Coronation of Queen Evergreen, and a host of other activities to make the festival a memorable weekend for every one who attended.
In 1966 a letter to the Indiana Gazette dated November 29, from an Indiana County soldier stationed in Saigon Vietnam, inquired if it would be possible for his unit to have a Christmas Tree for the Holidays. Roy Fleming brought a 5' tree, well wrapped for shipment, on behalf of the Indiana County Tree Growers. The Gazette underwrote the cost of shipping the tree by air to the base and followed up by asking the Associated Press to keep an eye on the trees arrival so the paper could receive pictures of the men and their tree. The tree arrived on time. The Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers have also sent trees to New York firemen families, after 911, and donated trees for troops of the Iraq War and their families.
In August of 1968 over 1000 Christmas Tree Growers met in Indiana for the Convention of the National Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Another achievement of the Association is promoting and sponsoring the Christmas Tree Competitive exhibit of the Christmas Trees at the Indiana County Fair, on the week before Labor Day. In 2007 we also started a Christmas Tree Decorating Contest at the fair to promote the "real tree".
2004 was the first year of Christmas in July at Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA. The Association decorated 20 to 30 Christmas Trees. Some are traditional, while others are themed. Area businesses and groups also decorate trees to promote their business. The trees are in a pavilion for a week. The public can walk through and vote on their favorite tree. The winner receives a plaque and money prize.
In 2007 we moved to Story Book Forest at Idlewild Park for a Story Book Christmas. We feel this is a great way to promote the "real tree" to children of all ages.
Every Spring we help with a Christmas Tree Seminar put on by our County Agent Bob Pollock, around 70-100 people attend.
Now in 2008 there are not as many tree growers as in years past. But Indiana Growers still grow and sell a large quantity of trees. When it all started in 1918 till the late '80s the Scotch Pine was King. The Fraser Fir moved into first place in the '90s with Douglas Fir into second. The Firs are King now. What will it be in 20 years? You can bet the Indiana county Christmas Tree Growers will be growing it.
Gregg A. Van Horn
How We Became the Capital
In 1956 an estimated 700,000 trees in Indiana County were cut that year. Some time during this period Indiana County began to be touted as the "Christmas Tree Capital of the World", according to an Associated Press Dispatch. About 1958 Shelton, Washington laid claim to the Christmas Tree Capital title but was repulsed when Walter Schroth one of Indiana County's nurserymen revealed he had an order for 15,000 trees to be shipped to Tacoma, Washington. Other states may produce more now, but we were the first. A newspaper reporter doing a story on the other capitals, reported we were the only ones with the signs up along the road that say, "Indiana County Christmas Tree Capital of the World".
Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers - Presidents
Douglas A. Malcolm
William S. Stephens
Richard C. Bedger
Ned B. Glessner
J. E. Walbeck
Ned B. Glassner
Glenn W. Carnahan
Gregg Van Horn