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December 20, 2017

Christmas in 1869

Christmas in 1869

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

With the local newspapers now available online, I decided to check for information about early Christmas celebrations.  The earliest mentions that I’ve found are in the Ledger during the month of December, 1869.   These are advertisements and notices of activities.

On December 8, there is an ad which states, “Mrs. Rhoda Martin has a stock of new books, toys, albums, vases, and everything in that line for Christmas, as nice as the nicest, and as cheap as the cheapest.  West side of the square.  Call and see.”  Her bookstore was near the southwest corner of the block (now part of the Judicial Center grounds).  It’s interesting see a woman business owner in this time period.  We don’t know much about Rhoda except that her husband James was a cabinet maker.

On December 22, under the heading of “Holliday Toys” [sic], there were notices for Alden’s bookstore, later called the Banner Book Store.  It was run by John Alden, a one-armed veteran.  Other ads said the store was at the “sign of the Big Book” in the post office building.  This was convenient, since Alden was also the postmaster.  (I suspect it would be illegal today for the postmaster to run a store out of the same building.)  Alden also sold wallpaper, hosiery, cigars, tobacco, and notions.

There was a large ad for DeWitt’s Dining Hall on the east side of square which had “candies, toys, nuts, and everything suitable for Christmas presents!”  David M. DeWitt was an interesting person – he had abnormally short legs, like the painter Toulouse Lautrec. He was well liked and had the first soda fountain in town.  The dining hall was also a grocery and a boarding house.  DeWitt ran the food tent at the 1870 Hamilton County fair.  When he sold his business in 1871, the newspaper hoped he would stay in the community because he was “a gentleman of enterprise and public spirit”.  However, he moved to Acton, Indiana, and opened a drugstore.  (Tragically, he would commit suicide in 1880.)

There were a variety of Christmas Eve activities planned.  The Presbyterian Sunday School had an “entertainment” and a Christmas tree.  The Young Templars of the Presbyterian Church had a supper and the Good Templars were planning for a supper on New Year’s Eve.  The Freemasons had a festival at the Masonic Hall in Clarksville.  The building is still standing and used for events.  There was also to be a Christmas Ball at the Wainwright House, the hotel at the corner of Conner and Eighth Streets.

There was also time for regular winter fun.  Another notice in the December 22 Ledger reported, “The ground is covered with snow this morning.  Looks like we might have sleighing.”  So, 148 years ago, Christmas in Noblesville was celebrated as joyfully as it is today.