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Oak Hill & Vicinity: Christmases Past in Oak Hill & Vicinity


By Mary Lou Nahas

For Capital Region Independent Media

How was Christmas celebrated in Oak Hill in years past? Here, carolers gather in East Durham. Contributed photo

In December I always like to look back on Christmas in Oak Hill and Vicinity. 

I’ve never found any information on how the DeWitts, who came from Ulster County around the time of the Revolution, or the settlers from Connecticut on Meeting House Hill celebrated Christmas. If anyone has references to share, please let me know.  

Fortunately, there is information in old store ledgers and diaries to give us information from other years. And even the memories of people my age can continue the story.

On Christmas Day 1867, Alfred Tripp’s store in Oak Hill did a rather brisk business. George L. Boughton purchased a vest pattern and trimmings for $2.16. William Paddock’s wife Norma bought a book for 18 cents. Ira Thorp treated himself to a pound of tobacco for 15 cents. Warren DeWitt bought one white chamber for 62 cents and a half pound of candles for nine cents. M.B. Mattice, the lawyer, had Charley pick-up one-half gallon of molasses for 40 cents, one lamp tube for nine cents and one lamp wick for two cents. 

Tripp Store windows were lavishly decorated for Christmas. Contributed photo

Israel Dewitt got a gallon of molasses (80 cents), 3 pounds of coffee sugar (51 cents), and one ball of cotton (15 cents). Abram Plank bought a butter firkin for $1.63 and 2 ¼ pounds of butter for 49 cents. Ransom Slocum sold $1 worth of butter to pay toward his store balance and purchased 18 yards of calico for $2.88 and one spool of thread for eight cents. 

William Alger got 12 ½ pounds of flour and some salt; Hiram Alger’s wife picked up 12 gallons of molasses, one pound of raisins, and 1 ounce of cinnamon. Walter Cheritree’s wife bought salt, 1 ounce of nutmeg; 2 pounds of sugar and one bottle of lemon extract (24 cents). 

What they did with their Christmas purchases and how they spent the rest of the day, you can decide.

On Christmas 1886, Hallenbeck-Ford (Fords’ Store of that time) was open for business. Their ledger shows that Calvin Orr bought $ 2.38 worth of holiday goods. I wish they had told us what the holiday goods were. Stewart Hough also spent $1.15 on holiday goods when he paid by cash his $10 bill.

The rest of the day’s business seemed to have little to do with Christmas. Will Olmstead purchased one handkerchief 85 cents; W.B. Mackey one book for 75 cents, an album for 50 cents. Joe Chittenden spent $1 on C-slip (not sure what that was or if I just can’t read the handwriting in the ledger). Orson Winans settled his bill by cash, $4. S. Osborn purchased a dish pan for 35 cents. Mrs. B.O. Graham got coal hod for five cents, C O Shutts—one pair rubber for $2.75. R E. Moss purchased an assortment of dishes: pin 75c, 4 vases and two plates 60c, 2 c and s 50, vase 20, cup 25 c.  Lovina Hollenbeck got one lamp for $2.50 and Mrs. L.J. White a lamp chimney for nine cents.

Ford and Hallenbeck appear to have been closed on Christmas 1887. There are entries in the ledger for Dec. 24 and Dec. 26, but none for Dec. 25, 1887.

Hulda Bates from Bates Hollow, grandmother of Linda Mormile, wrote in her diary about 1900 that on Dec. 22 she “went to the Christmas tree and had a nice time.” The young man she would later marry walked her home from the Christmas tree. On Christmas Day her diary entry was: “Helped with work — not much of any account.”

Edward Lounsbury, who lived with his daughter Anna and her husband Floyd somewhere near Oak Hill, wrote on Friday, Dec. 23, 1910: “Floyd and Anna went to Oak Hill and got some Xmas presents. Saturday, Dec. 24: “Going up to Cousin Omar’s to hold Xmas. Had a good visit.”

Norma Fleischer has shared a story describing a Christmas in Potter Hollow and Manorkill in 1921: “It had been decided that I could miss a few days of school and go help my Grandparents prepare for Christmas. When you are six years old getting ready for Christmas is almost as exciting as the day itself.” She tells how her grandmother said, “Tomorrow we will make cookies and popcorn balls.” She went with her grandfather to select and cut the tree, which they brought home on a bobsled and stored in the woodshed overnight before decorating it the next day. In the evening they made popcorn balls of molasses, butter and a little maple syrup, and strung popcorn and cranberries together to make a rope of red and white to decorate the tree.

Christmas programs at the Oak Hill Methodist Church involved the whole community.  Programs were printed by Ratch’s Rural Press and saved in scrapbooks. Contributed photo

By the 1930s, the Sunday School programs at churches were community events. On Dec. 23, 1937, the Oak Hill Methodist Church Sunday School presented a long and elaborate program.   The choir sang and the pastor gave the invocation. Then Ralph Brand recited “Christmas Wishes”; George Ford, “A Secret”; Junior Ives, “A Present to Bossy Cow;” Edward Vedder did “A Christmas Welcome.  Betty Lounsbury and Peter Lounsbury did recitations.  Lionel Ford did A Surprise for Santa”; Carol Hayes, “Will Xmas Never Come.” 

Stannard Mackey recited “The Best Place”; Ralph Disbrow, “Pussy’s Appetite”; Shirley Burnett, “Christmas Happiness.” Thomas Woodruff presented “What I’d Do”; Phyllis Barnes did “East and West”; Violet and Viola Poultney told “What the Stars Say”; and Norma Poultney did “The Story Best of All.” In addition, there were two plays, a distribution of presents, and several songs.

By Dec. 24, 1961, the Oak Hill Methodist Christmas Party for the church school was held in the church at 4 p.m.

“Santa Claus will join us at the party. We hope that all of the parents will come and bring their children,” announced the bulletin.

The church also held a candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

Bob Boellner, who lived in Oak Hill as a boy, said his best Christmas gift was a transistor radio.  Anna Hamm remembered a toy stove as her best gift. Mary Rose Johnson said the “best present we ever got, as far as I’m concerned, was a pony my dad got us and had to hide it at Cochran’s farm until Christmas!” Mary Rose also remembers singing Christmas carols at the nursing home.

Ryan Frank, who “grew up in the hills of Cornwallville,” remembers watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” on VHS every Christmas Day when “my daddy got home from work. Looking back, it all seems so wonderful. I’m very thankful that I’ve had so many fantastic Christmases in the hills, and so many lovely people to spend them with.”

The Bates Christmas Service featured folks of all ages and even a dog! Contributed photo

Earlier in December this year there was Christmas in Durham sponsored by the Durham Task Force with cookies and hot chocolate, Santa and gifts. At a service in the Bates church there were many songs, children portraying the Christmas story, and Santa. There will be a Christmas Eve service at 7 p.m. at the Durham-Oak Hill United Methodist Church, Routes 145 and 22, to which all are invited to attend.

Durham Methodist Church will host a Christmas Eve service this year at 7 p.m. Contributed photo
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