Frontier Diary: A Bavarian touch to Christmas in Glenwood
Glenwood Springs Historical Society
Every gift which is given, even though it be small, is in reality great if it is given with affection.
Louisa Schwarz’s cookies were morsels of Yuletide happiness punctuated with the sweetness of the season. Each treat, crafted with love and joy, illustrated the magic of the holiday. Nothing gave Louisa Schwarz more pleasure than having children visit her home on Christmas Day to enjoy her homemade cookies and to celebrate the Christmas season with merriment and friendship.
Christmas is a time to celebrate fond memories with childhood holiday traditions, and Louisa brought a little Bavarian magic to Glenwood Springs. Born Louisa Scholl in Bavaria, Germany, in July 1856, she was undoubtedly surrounded with the snowcapped peaks of the Alps and a landscape filled with castles, stately churches, and alpine meadows. Winter snows transformed her childhood home into a wonderland.
Louisa immigrated to the United States in 1883 to marry fellow German immigrant Jacob C. Schwarz. He was a professional baker and had for several years owned a confectionery in Hartford, Connecticut. Louisa and Jacob after their marriage lived in Buena Vista, Colorado, where Jacob was a grocer. In 1893, the couple moved to Glenwood Springs, taking up residence at 829 Pitkin Ave. In Glenwood Springs, Jacob owned a furniture store and operated a mortuary. Louisa immersed herself in Glenwood Springs society and in about 1900 began holding an open house at her residence each Thursday afternoon. Glenwood Springs residents, and tourist visitors, embraced her hospitality.
Children were extremely important to the Schwarzes. The couple was childless, having lost their only child, 2-year-old daughter Louisa, while they were living in Buena Vista. Knowing the future hinged upon children and their education, Jacob was elected to the local school board. Louisa was a member of the P.T.A. It was written, “Few school affairs ever were completed without Mr. and Mrs. Schwarz present.”
Christmas Day was the pinnacle of the year’s entertaining. The day combined the couple’s love of the holiday season with their love for children. It is unknown if the Christmas cookies offered to the children were created by Louisa, or if the baking was a collaborative effort with Jacob. However, making the perfect Christmas cookie took planning, patience and time. Butter, eggs, honey, almonds, hazelnuts, cinnamon, chocolate, candied citrus peels and jams were standard ingredients. Many doughs required chilling before baking. Butterplätzchen (iced cut out cookies), and pffeffernüsse (containing spices and black pepper) were stored for several weeks after baking to achieve the perfect flavor.
In true German tradition, the doors of the Schwarz home opened in celebration of the holiday. Plates of cookies and sweets — bunter teller — contained the bakers’ work. Undoubtedly, the plates displayed vanillekipferl (vanilla crescents), Oma’s honiglebkuchen (Grandma’s honeycake), schneeflocken (snowflakes), engelsbäckchen (angel cheeks with jam centers), zimtsterne (cinnamon Stars), and baumstämme (Bavarian hazelnut biscuit bars). Each child received a sack of cookies and candy as well as a gift from Santa Claus, who was in attendance.
A Christmas tree was as equally important as the cookies. Each year Louisa played for the children Christmas tunes from a German music box. Attached to the top of the music box was a Christmas tree that rotated as the music played. For Louisa, the music box took her back to her childhood. For the children, a Christmas memory was created that lasted a lifetime.
Louisa enjoyed all aspects of a social life. Euchre and whist were her favorite card games, and she welcomed good competition. When the snows melted, her flower gardens bloomed with color and life. With her home close to the elementary school, children would stop by and admire her flowers. “I plant them for the children, they like them so much,” she would often say. She generously gave cut flowers from her gardens as gifts.
On Dec. 8, 1932, Louisa died, saddening the community so close to Christmas. Members of the Glenwood Springs Garden Club requested that a wreath be displayed in every window during the Christmas season in her honor. The void created by her death continued to be felt in the community, and in December 1933, the Garden Club asked again that wreaths be displayed to further her memory.
The Glenwood Springs Garden Club honored their member by planting a Colorado blue spruce tree in today’s Axtell Park at the corner of Eleventh Street and Grand Avenue. The 6-foot tree was selected from the White River National Forest near Sweetwater, carefully dug, and transported to Glenwood Springs by members of the Forest Service. The tree was then transplanted with loving hands by members of the Glenwood Springs Garden Club. In 1950, the much larger and now stately tree was adorned with Christmas lights, becoming Glenwood Springs’ first living Community Christmas Tree.
Louisa Schwarz’s Colorado Blue Spruce tree still stands. It is a symbolic connection to Christmases past, where a kind Bavarian woman created Yuletide memories with sweets and an open heart. Merry Christmas! Frohe Weihnachten!
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Historical Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.