GJ History: Grand Junction’s first Christmas tree
GJ History Columnist
It was Monday, Dec. 25, 1882, at the Crawford House (later renamed the Brunswick Hotel) at the northwest corner of 4th and Main streets. On this night Edwin Price, the first newspaper editor of the Grand Junction News, was pleased to see the reaction of the townspeople to the beautifully trimmed Christmas Tree.
Most of the trees in the Grand Junction area had been cut for log cabins, fire wood, and the lumber mills. And high-desert terrain trees were scarce in the town site, with most of the trees coming from down by the river and the forest high in the mountains.
When George Crawford and Richard Mobley crossed the river on Thursday, Sept. 22, 1881, and placed a claim on this area, thoughts of Christmas was far from their minds. By the end of the next year however, the town was laid out, the railroad had advanced as far as Delta, and George Crawford and James Bucklin had gone to Denver to take a proposition to Edwin Price to start a newspaper in Grand Junction. With a fair offer and the possibilities for making money in a new location, Edwin and his new wife, whom he met in Denver and married on Oct. 13, 1881, accepted and moved to Grand Junction, Gunnison County, Colo.
Edwin sold his interest in his Denver Printing plant and purchased equipment for publishing a newspaper. He left Denver for Gunnison on Oct. 7, 1882 and met James Bucklin and traveled to Delta. There they took the stage coach to Grand Junction, arriving on Oct. 13, 1882. On Oct. 28, the first issue of the Grand Junction News hit the streets. It is interesting to note that the first issue was auctioned off to the Hon. A. Pumphery of Montrose for $35.00 and the proceeds donated for a public hall. It would be eleven years before another newspaper would come to town.
There were no large buildings in town and with the railroad just weeks away, things in Grand Junction needed to improve in a big way. Edwin and other businessmen met at the school house on 5th and Colorado and formed a social club, called the “Good Luck Club” because of a horse shoe found in the street. As a type of blessing for their businesses, members nailed horse shoes over their doors open side up, so their good luck wouldn’t run out. The purpose of the club was to discuss thoughts on how to improve the town.
The town was without hotels and the only place a person could find something to eat was in a saloon. Each saloon had a complement of gamblers and a short-order restaurant attached to it. At that time Grand Junction was a wide open town with everything open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When business slowed, people would rope off Main for horse racing. Water from the Colorado and Gunnison carried typhoid and the doctors taught towns people to boil water to make it safe.
There were a number of shootings in town and a new city ordinance was enacted to not allow the carrying of concealed weapons. The Marshal posted an order to the townspeople that anyone doing so would be arrested and jailed in the cabin on 5th and Colorado. Edwin published this notice in the Daily News with the hope the law would be enforced.
On election day in November 1882, as people were voting to create a new county (Mesa), an earthquake shock was felt through the entire valley. A group of men camping on Douglas Creek reported that at 7 p.m. they noticed a strong smell of sulpher and the earth began to shake and roll, great rocks rolled down the hill on their camp and they thought they were going to get sea-sick. Then a gaping, wide hole opened up and immense volumes of smoke and sand came blowing out of the ground.
A determined Edwin Price continued his efforts to clean up the town before his wife Lola arrived. Lola actually came in the first passenger train on Nov. 21, 1882. Edwin printed in the newspaper, “Mrs. Edwin Price, the better half of Ye editor, arrived in Grand Junction, Thursday afternoon, Ain’t we happy?” The St. Elmo Mountaineer reported, “Grand Junction is a town of about four or five hundred inhabitants and is about as dirty, ornery looking a place as it ever falls to the lot a mortal to see.” Edwin replied to the Mountaineer that the town was making progress and constructing eight new, two-story buildings, two of wood and six of brick, to be completed by Christmas 1882. One of the buildings had the first wooden sidewalk in town and the townspeople “gathered in awe.”
He also reported that it was rumored by those “who ought to know, that quite a number of young ladies are coming to town this winter.” A later report said something had struck the boys in town and that they were beginning to “spruce up,” wonderfully.
Lola F. Kennard Price had arrived just in time to help her husband with Grand Junction’s first Christmas party. Lola, a direct descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullens of Mayflower fame, had a strong pioneer spirit and was here to help. There were two possible host locations for the party. One the Randell Hotel and the other the Crawford House. Both were under construction and to be finished by Christmas.
Everyone was asked to donate, and some of the most liberal givers were the saloon owners. The saloons were principal business houses and were kept by men of good reputation. The saloon was the common meeting place for all, and all saloon owners gave funds to Edwin to help buy gifts for the children.
There were no organizations for all people of faith to unite in Christmas service, so the Rev. Whicher, an aged and retired preacher of the Methodist Church South held a meeting. Edwin Price was elected Sunday school superintendent and Lola Price was the organist.
Volunteers were sought to find a Christmas tree, Melvin O. Whitehead, and Will Smith, agreed to go to Pinon Mesa for a tree. Where the 5th Street Bridge now stands, they crossed the Colorado River while the river was low in December 1882 to reach the pine forest. It took them a day to make a round trip and they brought back two beautiful trees. One was 14 feet in height and just reached to the ceiling of the dinning room of the newly completed Crawford House at 4th and Main.
The Christmas tree celebration was the first affair to occupy the dinning hall. Mrs. Lola Price sent to Denver for trimmings and got the very best on the market. Mrs. Connelly — the mother of Judge Wm. G. Connelly, who was visiting her son — along with Lola, Melvin Whitehead, and Edwin Price spent many hours trimming the tree. Then the presents for the children and the older folks were wrapped and placed under the tree.
When they were done they said they had never before seen a tree so wonderful with all the trimmings. Lola and some of the ladies from town spent two weeks training the children for the Christmas program. Some of the children who participated in the program were Grace and Frank Steele, Carrie, Hattie, Charles and James Green, Jennie and Henry Davis, Mary Hull, Lillie Hall, the Lapham sisters, the Voorhees children, the Rev. Hutchinson’s family, and orphaned children of Patrick Henry Gordon, who had died earlier in the year, Rose, Rachel, Edward, and George Gordon.
More than 200 people attended the party on Monday, Dec. 25, 1882, at 7 p.m., including more than 30 children. An admittance fee of 25 cents for adults was charged, with children admitted for free.
The children were allowed in first and then the adults. Songs were sung; Will Smith entertained, Mrs. Jackson read a Christmas poem and the children presented their Christmas program. Governor George Crawford gave a few remarks and said that a year ago there was not cabin to be found in the area, now there was a town. And to the delight of all, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus passed out presents to all the children. Some of the town’s founders were also given gifts and Governor Crawford was given a tin horn, because he was always blowing his horn about Grand Junction.
A closing hymn, “Only an Armor Bearer” was sung and thus ended the first Christmas in Grand Junction. After all the expenses were paid, a total of $9.39 was turned over to the treasurer of the Sunday school for the purchase of hymn books.
Edwin and Lola Price lived here 32 years, from 1882 to 1914. Over the years Edwin would bring his mother Matilda and his sisters, Mrs. Maria A. Hoffman and Mrs. Herman (Maud) Bull, to town. He continued to write articles about Grand Junction up to the time of his death in 1935. Lola survived until 1951, and both are buried in the Orchard Mesa Cemetery. Even though they lived elsewhere after 1915, in death they wanted to be buried here; this was home.
The efforts of the local businessmen in 1882, with their “Good Luck Club,” brought prosperity to the small community of Grand Junction. Today, the 2013 Christmas Tree on the corner at Wells Fargo Bank stands about 30 feet south from where the first Christmas tree in Grand Junction stood 131 years ago.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all in Mesa County!
Sources: Story Teller of the Tribe, Finder of Odd Knowledge, Uninteresting Items, A Bore to his Grandchildren, a Pain to his wife on spelling, but a locater of golden nuggets & truths and pearls of wisdom, and Merry Christmas to his first great-grandchild, Abel Harris. Sources and Photos: Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Room, Michael Menard; Grand Junction News files; Daily Sentinel files; Snap Photo; Edwin and Lola Price Files; and the Mount Garfield Chapter D.A.R. Records. GJ Free Press history columnist Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom. Email Garry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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