As seen in Darcy Maulsby’s Newsletter.
When I was driving through northwest Iowa a few weeks ago, the ground was covered with snow and the sun was setting, creating a magical look that almost made me feel like I was in a snow globe. I was glad I was passing near the small town of Remsen on Highway 3. I finally had the chance to see the town’s Christmas tree in the middle of the street downtown!
Yes, this is a thing in Iowa. It’s a tradition that used to be fairly common in many small towns in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest. In my Grandma Katherine’s hometown of West Point, Nebraska, you can still find a huge lighted Christmas tree in the middle of the street downtown this time of year.
But where, why and how did this tradition get started? I started digging into the history, wrote a story for Farm News awhile back, and added it to my blog. Here’s a snippet:
“In 1914, Story City, Iowa, became one of the first towns in Iowa to display a municipal Christmas tree with electric lights. While many Iowa communities had begun to offer electrical service in the late 1890s and early 1900s, electricity was still a novelty that held the power to fascinate, especially in rural areas.
At that time, electricity was out of reach for thousands of farm families, many of whom wouldn’t receive electrical service until the federal Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought power to rural America in the late 1930s and into the 1940s.
When Story City harvested its first municipal Christmas tree in town in 1914, local citizens decorated the tree with large, multi-colored lights. The lighting of the tree became a memorable event for a town that had not fully integrated electricity into all homes. A man who was visiting Story City during the Christmas season in 1914 described the tree as “the biggest stunt the town ever pulled off.”
Other communities took note. After Story City celebrated its first lighted Christmas tree, the event attracted newspaper coverage across the Midwest, and the concept of municipal Christmas trees started gaining popularity in small towns across Iowa and beyond.”