LS: History Here and Now Column Dec 05, 2008

GJ’s first Christmas involved river-fording and saloon donations

THE HOTEL BRUNSWICK, circa 1883, was the site of Grand Junction’s first community Christmas tree. Photo Special to the Sentinel/ Loyd Files Research Library Museum of Western Colorado

Grand Junction’s first Christmas was a community affair.

Everybody lent a helping hand and contributed freely financially. The most liberal givers were the saloon-keepers, many of whom attended the holiday event. The generous contributions of saloon owners made it possible for the children to have gifts that first Christmas.

In fact, the saloons were the principal business houses in those early days of Grand Junction’s history. It was said that saloons were kept by men of good reputation, some of whom could find no other sustainable occupation. The saloon was the common meeting place, a clubhouse of the community.

M.O. Whitehead and Will Smith volunteered to go on Piñon Mesa for the Christmas tree — a trip that took the entire day.  The two men first had to ford the Colorado River near the site of the present Grand Avenue Bridge.

Whitehead and Smith brought back two trees. One was at least 14 feet tall and was chosen for the community Christmas tree. The tree just reached the ceiling in the dining
room of the Brunswick Hotel.

The hotel, located where the Reed Building is now, was the largest one in town and was deemed the only place where such a celebration could be held. Built by George Crawford, the town’s founder, the hotel had just been completed, and the Christmas tree celebration was the first affair to occupy the dining hall.

Edwin Price, owner and publisher of the Grand Junction News, along with his wife, and Mrs. Connelly, mother of William G. Connelly, one of the first county judges, sent to Denver for the tree trimmings. It was reported that they ordered the finest trimmings that could be purchased.

The Prices, Judge Connelly and his mother spent many hours putting the trimmings on the tree. Then the presents were placed under it for the children and older folks. Santa wasn’t at the first Christmas because no one remembered to purchase the “whiskers.”

When the tree was finished many townspeople thought it was the finest Christmas tree that they had ever seen. Everybody was tickled over his or her work. Price later wrote that he had never before or after seen a Christmas tree that could surpass the first Christmas tree in Grand Junction. With all the presents, the tree was “a treasure tree of golden fruit.”

No doubt it was a Christmas remembered by those in attendance for many years to come.

Two weeks before Christmas, Mrs. Price and other ladies in Grand Junction began working with the children for the Christmas program. More than 30 children participated.

A different party on the same night — a dance and supper — was held at the Randall House, another hotel in Grand Junction.  This party was well attended too, and those taking part were “as happy as if they were dancing in one of the well-appointed ballrooms of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver,” Price recalled.

This first community Christmas showed a true pioneer spirit, and it went a long way toward softening the hardships of the uncomfortable realities of the frontier town.

Kathy Jordan is author of “Heart of the City: North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.”

Curious about other Grand Junction holiday celebrations? E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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