LOOKING BACK: Brown County’s history as a Christmas tree producer

Brown County, in the 1960s, became one of the nation’s major producers of Christmas trees. One grower was reported to have 3 million growing on his 800 acres.

Along with the artists and tourists, each fall came wholesale Christmas-tree buyers to check the Brown County evergreen harvest, which they sent to many parts of the nation.

Practical farmers turned Christmas trees into a cash crop. The Brown County Christmas Tree Growers Association, organized in 1961, estimated that 75,000 Christmas trees were sold in the county in 1963.

Many growers sold the trees retail right off their lots, but the big operators sold them to wholesale buyers who hauled them away by the truckload. At least one Brown County grower had his own retail lot in Florida.

The Brown County terrain and soil composition are ideal for growing Christmas trees, but the grower had more to do than just plant the seedlings and come back in six or seven years to harvest the crop. The quality grower had a year round-cultivation job.

To begin with, most Brown County growers bought their seedlings from nurseries, for about $25 per thousand. Two thousand to 2,500 trees were planted to the acre.

Mother Nature would just as soon grow sumac, sassafras, hickory, green briar and broom sage, as Christmas trees; so grass, brush and briars had to be removed regularly to give the trees growing room. Shade from weeds or brush will prevent the bud terminals from opening and forming. Beginning about the third year, the trees themselves were sheared and trimmed. The annual trimming has to be done to assure the trees will grow to the shape they are supposed to be. The annual shearing is done in the summer.

In addition, the growers fought the deer, fire, wind, snow and ice, and various pests, all of which can harm young trees. Even a heavy crow can deform the infant trees’ top twig.

But with all the care, only 60 to 70 percent of the trees planted ever reach quality market standards.

Another cause for worry was that the first frosts can turn a growing tree slightly yellow. Growers had to decide whether to risk early cold weather, or to cut the trees before they knew how big the market would be.

The Brown County Christmas Tree Growers Association graded the trees into three classifications the summer before they were sold. Then, the buyers, assisted by information from the association, hunted out the best evergreens in Brown County.

The growers association had more than 50 members, and many other property owners grew Christmas trees on a small scale.

The Pearl Roberts Hoover family was one of those small growers in the 1970s. We loved to see the families coming to look for their Christmas tree. Sometimes we would let the family go up the hill to look for and cut their very own. The children would come dragging the tree down the hill. They would either tie the tree on top of the car or load it half in the trunk and half sticking out. It was a joy to see the happy smiles and hear their conversations about the experience of harvesting their tree.

Most of the tourists who journeyed to Brown County in October and November to view the autumn splendor probably little dreamed that one of the county’s scotch pines might find its way into their living room before the year was over, but that was exactly what happened in many cases.

We invite you to come see the town Christmas tree on the grounds of the History Center, and while you are there, please come inside and see the Christmas trees and the horse and sleigh. There is a tall, graceful, red cedar tree in the Gnaw Bone Cabin Room decorated with handmade ornaments like those that would have hung on the Christmas trees in our grandparents’ day.

Bring the children to the History Center to see Santa Claus on Dec. 2 and 9 from noon to 5 p.m.

Part of this story was written by Jack Bond and part of the story was written by Pauline Hoover, Brown County Historical Society.