"The windmill was constructed in secret so it would be a surprise for residents..."
- A windmill on the Square that was first placed and lit in December of 1928.
- A globe 20-feet in diameter was placed on the Square in 1938.
- In the 1920s, local undertaker Wade Shilling held a Christmas party for children in Troy. In 1928 it was reported that 1,500 children attended his party! Other famous Santas in Troy include George Hayner, director of Sales at Hobart Brothers at the time, pictured here.
(Photos courtesy of the Troy Historical Society)
Troy's Long Forgotten Lights, Sights & Santas
By Judy Deeter
TROY - A beautiful Christmas tree is once again glowing on Troy’s downtown Public Square, a place where the magic of the holiday season comes alive. For many years now on Thanksgiving Weekend residents of Troy gather on the Square to celebrate the arrival of the holiday season and to watch the lighting of the tree. But this hasn’t always been the case.
Troy’s Christmastime history is quite interesting. Some of the most unusual stories come from the 1920s and 1930s, the years between World War I and World War II when there was first economic prosperity and then the Great Depression.
Public Square decoration seems to have first changed from what was the normal routine about 1928. According to an article in the TROY DAILY NEWS (December 13, 1928), representatives of the Troy Business Men’s Association and city officials wanted to decorate the Square in a different way and “to get away from the standard form of decoration.”
They decided to have a Holland Christmas scene with a windmill (pictured at top left). The businessmen paid for most of its construction. Three local companies—the Miami Parts Company, Hobart Brothers Company, and the Hobart Manufacturing Company—loaned machine parts, motors and bearings to get it up and running. It was built, painted green and white, and put into operation on the top floor of the city building (a floor which was removed from the building years ago). Then it was disassembled and taken to the Public Square where city employees re-built it. With its 40-foot height, 400 colored lights and 20-foot arms, it could be seen up and down both Main and Market streets.
The windmill was constructed in secret so it would be a surprise for residents. It is believed that is was first lit for viewing on the evening of Saturday, December 15, 1928.
In 1934, another unique Christmas centerpiece came to the Square. In old photographs, it looks like a birthday cake with candles! THE TROY DAILY NEWS of December 13, 1934 described it as “…octagon-shaped, modernistic in-style and 20-feet in diameter at the base.” It had three tiers, each of which was smaller than the one below it—like a tiered cake. The first tier had four Biblical Christmas scenes created by local artist Floyd Armstrong. The scenes were enhanced with green lights and nearby spot lights. The second and third tiers had 50 green and red electric candles with trims of greenery, laurel, and pine. It was topped by a white star 40 feet above the base. The Troy Retailers Association designed and provided decorations for the piece; employees of the city light plant provided the lighting.
In 1938, a world globe—20 feet in diameter—was placed on the Square. The words “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.” Ran along its center in large, glittering letters. A neon light showed Troy’s location and a Santa and reindeer were shown hurrying toward Troy. The globe was on the Square for several Decembers. It is thought the globe was eventually damaged, possibly by high winds.
Along with these three landmarks, three local businessmen also are remembered for their generosity during this era.
On December 16, 1925, local undertaker Wade Shilling ran an invitation in the TROY DAILY NEWS for the boys and girls of Troy to visit his funeral parlor on Christmas Eve. The newspaper invitation reads: “I want all the Boys and Girls of Troy to be at my parlors Thursday Afternoon, December 24th at 3 o’clock. I will have a big Christmas Tree—Santa Claus will be there with plenty of good things for all the children. Now, don’t disappoint me, Boys and Girls, for old Wade will be here looking for you. Be on time—please.” His funeral parlor was at 322 W. Main St. (across the street from the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center).
Shilling repeated the Christmas Eve gatherings for Troy children over the next few years. In 1928, it was reported that 1,500 children attended the parties at his funeral parlor.
Over the years, several men have played Santa Claus. Two men are particularly remembered during this time: George Hayner, Director of Sales at the Hobart Manufacturing Company and James Warren Safford, President of the Troy-Tipp Telephone Company.
The Troy-Miami County Public Library Local History Library-Troy Historical Society photograph collection has several pictures of George Hayner visiting with children in his Santa suit as well as a formal portrait of him as Santa Claus. A few days before Christmas in 1939, Hayner (with a Hobart vocal “octet”), entertained nearly 200 office and factory employees at the Hobart Manufacturing Christmas party.
Local writer David Smallenbarger recalled that though Safford was a millionaire many times over, “ he was as common as that old shoe, and he had a tremendous love of people.” Smallenbarger also wrote, “Safford, in his Santa Claus outfit, would always be perched on top of a fire truck, waving at the crowd, while the truck circled the square.”
A common theme seems to run through all the past holiday photographs and stories. Those involved wanted to give everyone a merry Christmas.
To learn more about Troy Christmas history, visit the Troy-Miami County Public Library Local History-Troy Historical Society collection at 100 West Main Street in Troy or contact The Troy Historical Society, PO Box 401, Troy, OH 45373 – Telephone: (937) 339-5900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .