Ancestors, Legends & Time

Christmas past on Webb City’s Main Street

Jeanne Newby

Christmas is almost here! Just a little over one and a half weeks till Christmas day. I always like to take a trip down Christmas Memory Lane on Main Street of Webb City. I know many of these memories have been shared over the past 29 Christmases that I have been writing my column of Ancestors, Legends and Time. But it is fun to recall memories of Christmas Past and compare them to Christmas Present and hope for a wonderful Christmas Future. Here are a few memories shared by readers over the years.

Christmas caroling seems to be a tradition of the past. I remember in high school the choir would walk through the halls singing Christmas carols and each class would stop working and listen to the sweet voices. Many churches still have caroling going to visit shut-ins, elderly, etc. But not too often do families just walk down the streets caroling to their friends and neighbors. We tried that one year (quite a few years ago) and some of our neighbors who didn’t know us well and didn’t understand the zaniness of our family looked at us as if we were insane. They did accept our cookie offerings and listened to our off key singing… but we didn’t do that again. We do, however, enjoy the Christmas Carols at our family celebrations!

Music was played all day long on the Main Street of Webb City, provided by Webb City Bank from speakers on top of the drive-through branch. The lit-up Santa with sleigh and reindeer on top of the drive-through building added additional charm.

Decorated store windows were a hit in the ’50s and ’60s. The Otasco (Oklahome Tire & Supply) was a big hit with their life-size Santa that moved and waved to children passing by. Sue and Jim Lightle, who operated Otasco, told of families parking in their cars in front of the store so the children could watch Santa in the window.  And those same children were breathless as they looked at the bikes, dolls, and many toys in the window sharing the limelight with Santa. The Kress dime store windows were full of the many trinkets that could be purchased with those treasured coins in clenched fists and tiny pockets. The Western Auto created a stir with their toys that were often whispered in the ear of Santa as a much needed present.

Santa Claus could be found at The Hub, where he patiently listened to each child as they told him of their wishes. Some of the employees shared those wishes with parents. And of course Santa would be in the annual Christmas parade. One year, (mid 40s) Santa came into town by plane at the airport. I heard that was an exciting treat.

Grocery Stores got into the Christmas spirit by displaying all kinds of toys on top of the refrigerated section of the store. They also displayed Christmas Trees outside of the store for families to choose trees on grocery shopping days. Many traditions in the days of past was for the family to go out in the woods and cut down their own tree. Often the choices for the tree were larger than the house could handle. I remember the men having to cut the tree down smaller and it still took over the living room. Children don’t mind being dwarfed by a Christmas tree!

Shopping on Main Street  was a great event. We didn’t have malls in those days but we had plenty of stores on Main Street that carried everything you needed for Christmas. You could buy your ornaments, lights, trees, gifts, and a snack for hungry shoppers. Often waving to friends and calling out Merry Christmas added to the charm of shopping. If a little snow began to fall, you couldn’t ask for happier shoppers.

We can’t have memories of shopping Main Street of Webb City without mentioning the famous 27-foot Christmas tree that graced the intersection of Broadway and Main Street. The tree was donated by R.H. Prigg Sr. from Oronogo. The tree was sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce, and it was a big hit. The tree was so big, traffic couldn’t be seen around it so a police officer, Leo Romero was positioned at the intersection to direct traffic around the beautiful tree. Leo was a popular fellow as friends would holler out Christmas Greetings to Leo while he worked. But alas, even though to many children it seemed as if the tree was there for several years, it only made it one year before the idea was vetoed. But that short lived tradition left a lasting memory.

Back to Christmas Present, be sure to enjoy the beautiful lights at King Jack Park.

Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber Office.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.