Tracing its Christmas Tree roots back to 1918, local farmers are keeping the Christmas spirit alive just an hour from Pittsburgh in Indiana, PA.
People seem to be leaning hard into the holidays this year.
My neighborhood was awash in twinkle lights and window-framed Christmas trees even before Thanksgiving. It seems we could all use some extra sparkle and cheer right now. Lucky for us, the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World” is just an hour away in Indiana, PA.
While there, you can cut your own Christmas tree, watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Jimmy Stewart Museum (Indiana was the actor’s hometown), and visit with Santa at the town’s holiday festival.
Christmas Tree Capital of the World
According to the Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, the county traces its Christmas tree roots all the way back to 1918, when local farmers were the first in the U.S. to grow the trees as crops. In 1956, an estimated 700,000 trees were cut in the county. Around that time, an Associated Press Dispatch dubbed Indiana the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World.”
There has been competition for the title. According to the Grower’s Association, a town in Washington state tried to lay claim to it in 1958. One of the Indiana tree growers rebuffed that assertion by revealing he had an order for 15,000 trees to be shipped to Tacoma, Washington. In more recent years, the small Oregon town of Estacada has taken on the moniker for itself. (WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR station, even did a story about this rivalry a few years ago.)
While Indiana County once boasted more than 200 Christmas tree growers, today that number is much smaller. And according to the USDA, Pennsylvania is now fourth in the country for Christmas tree production. (Oregon is number one.) Nonetheless, the Christmas spirit is alive and twinkling in Indiana. As the Grower’s Association website proudly declares, “Other states may produce more now, but we were the first.”
Cut Your Own Tree
Cutting down your own Christmas tree is one of those holiday traditions steeped in nostalgia, even if you’ve never actually done it. Maybe this is your year to don some warm apparel, tramp out into a field (good for social distancing!), and find your perfect tree.
- The farm features cut-your-own and pre-cut trees, tractor rides, concessions and a gift shop. Watch Very Local’s own Bradley Hill as he takes us on a tour of Mytrysak’s to cut his own tree.
- At Ruffing’s, all trees (cut-your-own and pre-cut) are just $29, no matter the size. Take your own saw or borrow one of theirs.
- Musser Forests donated the 37-foot live tree for this year’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” Festival.
Gregg Van Horn’s Christmas Tree Farm
- Located seven miles north of Indiana, this farm is owned by Gregg Van Horn, the current president of the Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers’ Association. Call for hours: 724-388-8572.
It’s a Wonderful Life
What is it about Indiana and the holiday spirit? Besides being the birthplace of Christmas tree farming, the town was also home to actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in the classic holiday film “It’s a Wonderful Life. “
The Jimmy Stewart Museum in downtown Indiana commemorates Stewart’s life and work. From Thanksgiving through January, the museum decks its halls with a Festival of Trees and an “It’s a Wonderful Life” exhibit, including film memorabilia, large movie scene cutouts, and its own Bedford Falls Village. You can also catch a matinee of the film in the museum’s vintage theatre and peruse the museum shop for gifts.
Each weekend in December (through Dec. 20 this year), the whole town celebrates with an “It’s A Wonderful Life” Festival where you can visit with Santa, shop local vendors, and soak up the town’s Christmas village vibe underneath a 37-foot live Christmas tree.