Life in Pleasant Valley - Christmas in Pleasant Valley: 1890-1910
in Pleasant Valley a hundred years ago was celebrated in many ways that
would be familiar to us. These were Victorian Age people and this age
saw the birth of many of the Christmas customs that we hold dear today.
Like us, they appreciated a white Christmas and got one in 1892, although
not enough for sleighing, and 1905. Also, just like today, Christmas
was a time of travel, family gatherings, gifts, and bounteous dinners.
When it came to Christmas, Rachel didn’t have much to say most years, perhaps because she was out of town or too busy to send her report to the paper. She does make it clear that it was the custom for she and Amos to spend Christmas day in Lambertville at the home of their daughter, Josephine Heath, and grandchildren. Very often, little Rachel Heath spent some time before or after Christmas at her grandmother’s house in Pleasant Valley. For these excursions, the Belvidere branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad running beside the feeder canal provided the transportation. Moore’s Station, serving Pleasant Valley, was located where Pleasant Valley Road meets the canal just half a mile from the Williamson’s home. It was named for the Moore family who lived in that area for several generations, and Moore’s Creek, running through Howell Farm, was also named for this family.
Christmas for the Williamson’s in Lambertville included a hearty dinner featuring turkey. In 1902 Rachel brought her granddaughter home to Lambertville where she was surprised by “a beautiful Christmas tree loaded with and surrounded by many presents, which made her happy for the holiday. We were all nicely remembered by Santa Claus and our friends and received many presents which were useful as well as ornamental.” Rachel never seemed to have anything but a joyful time and commented in 1906, “We returned home that evening feeling glad that we had been spared to enjoy another Christmas.”
The Williamson’s weren’t the only family that visited relatives at Christmas. Her column frequently mentioned other families who had spent the holiday with relatives in Trenton, Stockton, Harbourton, Pennington, Titusville, and other locales. Visiting or being visited was a common way to celebrate the season. As Rachel commented in 1906, “Some families entertained company, others going away, while others stayed at home and enjoyed their own society. We are not prepared to say which class enjoyed the day the most.” Among the families who annually received visits from grown children who had moved away was the family of Reuben Jones, longtime canal bridgetender and stationmaster at Moore’s Station. It was common for one or more of his grown sons or daughter to bring their families back to the Station at Christmas time to visit with their parents in the bridgetender’s house at the station.
The most frequent comment about Christmas that Rachel makes is that it “passed off quietly in this vicinity.” It is unfortunate that the quietness of the season was so often due to “so much sickness in the neighborhood.” Typically, comments about Christmas are accompanied by the list of families who had sick members. In 1891 and 1892 this list included the Charles Miller family who lived at what is today Howell Farm. These were hardy people, though, and sickness didn’t keep everyone from enjoying the holiday. In 1906, Rachel commented about a relative, “On Christmas morning we saw P.H. Hartwell get off the train [at Moore’s Station] down from Lambertville and we enjoyed a few minutes conversation with him. He informed us that he was invited down to Aunt Lizzie’s to eat Christmas dinner and while he was sick a bed with a cold and had been for a month, he was obliged to keep on his feet and could not resist the temptation to partake of one more of those good dinners, but he had taken his daily precaution before leaving home.”
The religious nature of the holiday was not completely forgotten, although seldom commented on by Rachel. She did note in 1900 that “the Valley was well represented at the Christmas entertainment at Titusville [church] on Christmas eve. The program was very interesting and well rendered.”
In the weeks before Christmas, the pages of the Hopewell Herald had various ads that use much the same imagery as today, such as the one at left from 1902. The ads show that Christmas was a full-fledged commercial event. There were many suggestions for buying gifts, especially toys for children. Visiting and shopping in the city became a holiday event for some people. In 1899 Rachel Williamson traveled to Trenton from Moore’s Station, “in company with our nephew, B.M. Miller [son of Charles Miller], and took in some of the sights in the way of the Christmas display, which was something gorgeous in some of the stores, and judging by the number of people which were gathered in many of the places and by the looks of things generally, we would say that there are no hard times.”
Rachel’s writings show that in spite of the holiday festivities, life went on as usual. The school was closed, so the children had a vacation at least from schoolwork, but in 1889 farmer Charles Miller was building a very fine poultry house that he really needed for his large flock. In 1893 Hart Lewis nearly filled his ice house Christmas week with “ice about six inches thick, which he cut on Parkhill’s creek.” In 1902 there was concern about short supplies of coal for heat. In 1908, Howard Hoff lost a horse on Christmas day. Rachel recorded a Christmas Eve death and Christmas day marriage among the Pleasant Valley folk. Both work and the everyday joys and tribulations of life went on unabated. But, the spirit of the season did encourage good will toward men. In 1908, Rachel recorded, “Our genial rural mail carrier, O.H. Stout, wishes to thank the many patrons on the route who so kindly remembered him with their tokens of kindness and Christmas cheer on that festal day, which was quite a surprise to him.”
In Victorian Pleasant Valley, Christmas was a time for many of the same festivities we have today. The travel was by coal fired steam locomotive or by horse and wagon, but families still got together for holiday gatherings and dinner. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and presents were part of the celebration. The farmers, though, couldn’t take a vacation and many families struggled with the annual round of seasonal colds or more serious diseases, like typhoid fever, that we don’t worry about today. In both eras people looked for as much joy as their situation offered and appreciated the human contacts they could make.