Eureka, the Christmas Tree Capitol of the World
Why was Eureka called the Christmas Tree Capitol of the World and what happened to the Industry?
The Tobacco Valley is surrounded by a Doug Fir and Larch forest which was logged in the first decades of the 20th century. Replacement Doug Fir trees then grew like carrots in a garden and required constant thinning. No one paid much attention when the first railroad car of Christmas Trees was shipped in 1923. When the lumber mill, the town’s largest employer closed the next year, Eureka residents discovered how important the Christmas tree industry would be to their survival during the Great Depression. By 1931 the first tree yard opened and by 1948 three hundred railroad freight carloads totaling 1,800,000 trees were shipped from Eureka. Eureka was the Christmas Tree Capitol of the World!
A study in 1970 concluded that over 80,000,000 trees were cut in the Eureka area during the boom years of the business. The Christmas tree business was a perfect solution for the need to thin the forests. Almost everyone in the valley was involved in the industry. Men and women spent two months often seven days a week working. Children worked the weekends. After such an laborious time the town celebrated the end of tree season with their own festivity. Every Christmas Eve a 30 foot high tree which stood in the middle of Eureka’s Main Street was decked out in Christmas finery. Santa always showed up with a bag of goodies (an apple, peanuts, and a little hard candy) for the children. For the adults there was a dance and a tree tying contest.
Many factors led to the decline of the industry. There are four main reasons the harvest of Christmas trees declined and that today Eureka is no longer the Christmas Tree Capitol. First, Eureka was producing wild Doug Fir trees which fell out of favor with consumers who wanted bushier cone shaped trees. Second, plantations sprung up close to major cities enabling trees to be cut later and be fresher also little transportation cost was involved which is a third major problem for Eureka which is many miles from any market. A fourth cause was the advent of plastic or fake trees which some prefer. However, Christmas trees and wreath making are still a part in Eureka’s economy. Following tradition, every year the Eureka Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors a number of holiday events which includes a tree lighting ceremony in the Tobacco Valley Historical Village and Santa still shows up with a bag of goodies.
About the Author
Darris Flanagan is a life long resident of Northwest Montana. He was raised on a ranch crossed by the Fort Steele Trail and then majored in history at the University of Montana. He taught Montana History in schools for twenty-five years before retiring so he could continue his research and writing.