By Mary Lou Nahas
For Capital Region Independent Media
What would Christmas have been like in Oak Hill and Vicinity in the past?
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 9 cents.
M.B. Mattice, the lawyer, had Charley pick up a half gallon of molasses for 40 cents, one lamp tube for 9 cents and one lamp wick for 2 cents. Israel Dewitt got a gallon of molasses (80 cents), 3 pounds of coffee sugar (51 cents), and one ball 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 8 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 oz of cinnamon. Walter Cheritree’s wife bought salt, 1 oz nutmeg; 2 pounds of sugar and 1 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 – coal hod for 5 cents, C O Shutts – one pair of rubbers for $2.75. R.E. Moss purchased an assortment of dishes, pin 75c, 4 vases and 2 plates 60c, 2 c and s 50c, vase 20, cup 25c. Lovina Hollenbeck got 1 lamp for $2.50 and Mrs. L. J. White a lamp chimney for 9 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 on Dec. 22: “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 6 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.
By the 1930s, the Sunday School programs at churches were community events. On Dec. 23, 1937, the Oak Hill Methodist Church Sunday School presented an 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;” 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.”
In the 1930’s Christmas Programs at the Oak Hill Methodist Church involved the whole community. Programs were printed by Ratch’s Rural Press.