…Holly Tree Park?
Yes, there is one , and in fact apparently several of these, nationwide . The specific one to which I refer is located in Perryville, MD on the east side of the north/south B&O Railroad single-track line between Baltimore and Washington, more or less adjacent to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, just without any passenger trains (those are on the Corridor.) The location of the Park is called Jackson Station. Wifey and I were on the road recently and stopped by to see it. She had seen it previously from a special excursion train back in the early 2000’s (which I was unable to attend 😦 But it was time to get back on site. Unfortunately it had to be by car this time.
“Once upon a time” (sounds like a story, doesn’t it), there was a great triumvirate of Tannenbaum, which included Cecil County, Maryland. When Americans in the 1940s thought of symbolic Christmas trees they were contemplating the White House Christmas Tree, as well as the Radio City Christmas Tree, which took center stage over Rockefeller Center in New York City. But what of that third great Christmas tradition of the Greatest Generation? The Traveler’s Christmas Tree became a national celebrity in its own “right here in Cecil County.” The Travelers’ Christmas Tree wasn’t your typical evergreen, but a Holly Tree located between Perryville and Charlestown just off Route 40. Known as “The Holly Tree by the Tracks” to locals in an earlier day, it was one of the largest and finest holly trees in the eastern United States at more than 60-feet tall.
In 1930, the Baltimore & Ohio, or B&O, Railroad purchased the land where the ancient holly had grown naturally, from the A.B. Sentman family. The B&O crews had long admired the glorious tree, and pointed it out to the thousands of passengers as they passed by the site. It was under the suggestion of a senior vice president of the B&O Railroad who also lived in Cecil County, George M. Shriver, that the land and tree were purchased. Shriver was a conservationist who sought to protect the tree so close to the tracks and with trackmen working in the area, Shriver ensured the tree and land were carefully tended.
By 1947, when travel by rail reached a zenith, the fame of the Holly Tree dressed in holiday glory as the Travelers’ Christmas Tree, had spread coast to coast and it became one of the most famous Christmas trees in America, lighted and decorated annually by the B&O Railroad workers. Passengers on the B&O’s New York to Washington run looked for the tree, vied for window seats, and thousands of motorists made a pilgrimage to the site from US Route 40, a couple miles east.
During the week prior to Christmas, every single passenger train on the route slowed as they passed the Travelers’ Christmas Tree, to give all those aboard a better look. Those traveling at night would know when they were approaching the spectacle as the coach lights were all dimmed to make the scene even more magical. Conductors, dining car staff, ticket sellers and other employees on the B&O wore red-berry springs plucked from the tree in honor of the Holly Tree, while numerous posters and dining car menu cards informed the traveling public about the festive touch on uniforms.
It’s somewhat challenging to fathom in the day and age when many daily trains rolled on through, that the president of the B&O Railroad made a special trip to Cecil County to throw the switch in a very formal ceremony to light the tree. The nationally renowned B&O Glee Club and Women’s Music Club performed, sometimes as many as 200 singers gathering around, with Handel’s Messiah and the Hallelujah Chorus ringing out through the natural glen formed in that section of the county. Not only did thousands attend the lighting ceremonies arriving by special trains, automobiles and even on foot, but tens of thousands more listened in by live radio broadcasts or witnessed it later courtesy TV newsreel showings at theaters and on news broadcasts.
May check on it at the holidays…