Decorating a tree with lights may seem very commonplace to us with today’s modern technology and lights that are available in a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and can blink in a multitude of patterns. In the early 1900s however, decorating a tree with electric lights would have been a relatively new idea. In fact, even the idea of having a large municipal Christmas tree was relatively new at that time in the U.S. The municipal Christmas tree seems to have been a popular observance in Europe for some time and an eastern city in the U.S. had a tree two years before Story City. In 1914 the Story City Commercial Club made arrangements to erect the first municipal Christmas tree at the intersection of Broad St. and Penn Ave. and this year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of that first tree.
The first tree was a gift from J.H. Jacobson and was cut from his residence lot on Lafayette Ave. The tree was put into position the week of December 14, 1914, and lit for the first time on the evening of December 16th. Two hundred and fifty electric lights in different colors decorated the thirty-foot tree and the strands of lights that ran from the tree to the four corners of the intersection. These lights were described as 30 candle power electric lamps at the time and were quite large in size. Credit was given to Oscar Henderson as the one who decorated the tree.
The first municipal tree in 1914 drew many visitors to Story City from miles around for the purpose of viewing it. According to the Dec. 17 edition of the Herald, Story City is the first town in Iowa to have a “great big” municipal Christmas tree. Peter Eide, who was visiting Story City, was quoted in the Dec. 31, 1914 Herald saying “Story City’s municipal Christmas tree was the biggest stunt the town ever pulled off.” He had seen the tree mentioned in every newspaper he picked up in his travels around the country from Minneapolis to Chicago, Sioux City to Dubuque.
Paul A. Olson, long-time editor of the Story City Herald, wrote in the Dec. 17, 1914 edition on the unity that the municipal tree symbolized. “The tree is not only a beautiful thing in itself, but its splendor calls to mind and emphasizes the joyous spirit of the Yuletide in a manner that nothing else could have done. Besides the tree stands for Story City’s unity in a most effective way. It represents no church, no society, no individual. It is in very truth a Municipal Christmas Tree, bodying forth the hopes and joys of the whole community, reminding all to prepare for the natal day of the King of Kings.”
The tree for 2014 will be donated by Dee & Dwayne Fiihr. Much like the original 1914 tree, the tree this year will be cut from the Fiihr’s property on Lafayette Ave. It’s quite fitting that the first municipal Christmas tree and the 100th anniversary tree will have been cut from the same one block area of Story City. This year the Yulefest tree lighting festivities will be held on Friday, November 28. Caroling will begin at 5:15 pm with the illumination of the tree at 5:30 pm.
The Historical Society will have note cards and magnets available for sale at the GCC office to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the municipal Christmas tree during the tree lighting. We will also have these commemorative items for sale at the Bartlett House Museum during Tour of Homes, Dec. 6th & 7th. There will be a mini exhibit about the 100th anniversary of the municipal Christmas tree at the Bartlett during the Tour of Homes as well. If anyone has photos of the Municipal Christmas Tree from over the last 100 years, please share these photos with the Historical Society.