Holly Festival Commemorates Milton’s Booming Past
Four pedals, glossy green leaves and red fruit.
The annual Holly Festival will take place in Milton, Del. on Saturday, Dec. 10 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. The festival, now in its 27th year, will be held at various locations including the Milton Fire Hall, Milton Theater and the Milton Library.
The Holly Festival is produced each year by the Milton Chamber of Commerce. According to Lisa Sumstine, executive director of the Milton Chamber, the festival is an annual craft fair always held on the second Saturday in December with hundreds of craft vendors from all over selling their wares.
“I like the opportunity to be amongst our neighbors and feel the holiday spirit,” Sumstine says. “It’s always fun to shop and lunch and see neighbors and friends on Holly Festival Day in Milton.”
In addition to crafts, Santa makes an appearance for the little ones, the Historical Society Museum holds a holly wreath making demonstration, the library and many downtown merchants offer special decor, gifts for sale and holiday treats and the Milton Century Club will present the Holiday House Tour showing off some of the historic homes in town decorated for the holidays.
Although the event is intended to bring friends and family together for the holidays, it also commemorates an important industry from Milton’s past — the holly industry. According to excerpts from “From the Land of Holly” by Walter F. Gable – State Forrester provided by Milton Historical Society, Milton was once a bustling holly town.
The excerpts state in the 1920’s and 30’s, holly cutters, wreath makers and dealers were able to earn profits from this cash crop. Holly was a cushion for a bad crop season and for others, particularly the elderly, it was their only income of the year.
By working day and night between Thanksgiving and the week before Christmas, farm families could make $155 – 300 a season by turning out up to 1,000 wreaths in a week. In 1940, a family which made 10,000 wreaths a season could earn $500.
Amongst those families was Charlie Jones, a Milton entrepreneur known as the “Holly Wreath Man” of Milton. He was known to use bright shipping labels proclaiming the crate contents were “From the Land of Holly.” Excerpts show Jones would sell to Delawareans and florists, churches and department stores across the nation.
Before producing large and small holly wreaths, holly sprays, boxwood wreaths and roping made of turkey beard, laurel and pine, Jones worked as a originally a fertilizer salesman. Jones and his family lived in a Victorian house at 201 Federal Street in Milton which is now known as the “The Holly House.”
To learn more about the Milton Holly Festival, visit de-vendors.com.