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Jersey Firsts: The Christmas Tree Farm

​By C.G. Wolfe/ © The Black River Journal

FARMS

According to some claims, the first Christmas tree in America may have been erected by a homesick, Hessian mercenary being held as a prisoner of war in Windsor Locks, Connecticut in 1777. Reports of Christmas trees being used in the German settlements of Pennsylvania date as early as 1816, and the custom even made its way to puritanical, Boston in 1847, but for most Americans, the Christmas tree remained a foreign and somewhat pagan practice.

All that changed in December 1848, when the Illustrated London News published a sketch of Britain’s Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, gathered around a shimmering Christmas tree in Windsor Castle with their family. The popularity of the royals turned a largely obscure custom into a fashionable holiday trend.

By 1851, Christmas trees were being sold commercially in the U.S. Most trees were taken at random from the forest which within 50 years was decimating the natural supply of evergreens, causing alarm among conservationists, including Theodore Roosevelt. But a vexed land owner in New Jersey would soon find a solution.

In 1901, William McGalliard, who owned a farm in White Horse, Hamilton Township, New Jersey, was mulling over a troublesome 10-acre parcel on his property that resisted all his efforts to produce a crop. Then he noticed that the reluctant parcel closely resembled a gravely patch at the front of his house where a stand of Norway spruces were thriving. McGalliard planted 25,000 Norway spruce on his hard scrabble lot and in a few years he introduced the country’s first “Christmas Tree farm.” McGalliard sold each tree for one dollar apiece and customers could select a tree to be cut and brought home or tagged for delivery.

McGalliard’s Christmas tree epiphany soon evolved into a thriving industry. According to the National Christmas tree Association, there are close to 350 million trees currently growing on farms in all 50 states in the U.S., and 25-30 million Christmas trees sold each year. A U.S. Census of Agriculture ranked New Jersey seventh in the nation in the number of Christmas tree growers. Of New Jersey’s 9,924 farms, 1,167 were cut Christmas tree farms, covering 7,628 acres and provide more than 132,000 families with Christmas trees annually. 

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