Santa’s annual visit to the Bon-Ton and downtown York, Pa., came after he landed first in the York Airport along Roosevelt Avenue and later its Thomasville location. Background posts: Ho, ho, ho – uh, Santa, hold on, The Grumbachers: ‘Builders and Heroes,’ Part III and What was famed architect John Dempwolf’s own house like?
JoAnne Everhart, that astute observer of the York area with a keen memory, noticed recent York Town Square posts on the old Roosevelt Avenue Airport and tied that to another recollection – Santa’s trip from the airport to the Bon-Ton to kick off the Christmas shopping season.
I include her e-mail here because it touches on so many parts of the York-area’s past:
The first article reminded me of stories my late father, Hamilton B. Everhart Jr., told me of going to the airport as a young boy in the 1930′s to see the airplanes, which were housed there… .
He said that as a special treat, his uncle would drive him there to see the planes. If they were lucky, a biplane would take off or land while they were watching. My dad was the little boy I identified in the Hess School picture from one of your former articles. He was the one, who watched for the mail plane to cross over the sky of the Hess Schoolyard.
The second article brought back a good Christmas memory of my own, which involves the Roosevelt Ave. Airport, just before it closed in the mid 1950′s. Back then it was the custom for Santa Claus to arrive in York via airplane.
As a very young girl I can remember going with my father to the Roosevelt Ave. Airport to welcome Santa. Daddy would drive our car, a green Studebaker, to the rear on the airport, the site of a former quarry. From there we could view both the approach of Santa’s plane both as in landed and the emergence of Santa from his plane. I can remember a very crowded Lincoln Park as boys and girls from all over the city gathered for a glimpse of Santa. He would then travel by a holiday float in a parade to the Bon Ton Dept. Store.
At that time the store was located on the south west corner of Beaver and Market Streets in York City. Upon arrival at the Bon Ton Santa would climb the ladder of the city’s largest fire truck to reach the third floor window of the Bon Ton, his point of entry to his home for the next month. It was on the Bon Ton’s third floor that Santa had his castle, and would receive visits from good boys and girls until the 24th of December. Santa’s castle was a magical place, an indoor winter wonderland. A photographer was located just inside the castle. For the fee of one dollar, a photo of you with Santa could be obtained.These photos were often given to grandparents, who displayed them on mantles for all to see.
The decorations were lavish. Animated figures surrounded Santa’s throne. After a visit with Santa, he would give each child a badge displaying his picture with the words, “Meet Me At The Bon Ton” displayed above it. The store’s toy department, the largest in York County, was located on one side of Santa’s castle. Dolls. trains, games, record players, etc.. lined the counters. All of the latest toys were there. On the other side of the castle the store’s seasonal decoration department was located. Beautifully decorated artificial Christmas trees, glass ornaments, bubble lights, figurines, and seasonal decor were displayed and sold there.
To the baby boomers, who grew up in York, Christmas memories often involve remembrance of trips to the Bon Ton. I still have a “Meet Me At The Bon Ton” badge, which I wear on my jacket each Christmas. That badge is now probably classified as an antique. I have several photos of myself with Santa, that were taken at the Bon Ton.
When my grandparents and parents passed, I found these pictures lovingly tucked away with the things they treasured. Each Christmas I display one of these pictures on the mantle in my home. It is a comforting reminder of a time before the tumult of the 1960′s and the changes which marked the end to the America that the greatest generation gave to us, their children.
After the airport closed on Roosevelt Ave., Santa continued to arrive via air airplane, landing at Hostetter’s Airport in Thomasville. The parade tradition continued with Santa riding a fire truck to the Bon Ton. I can only remember one trip to the Thomasville Airport to greet Santa. The airport was much larger, but did not have the same happy holiday feeling as the crowded small old time airport on Roosevelt Ave.
The magical feeling just was not there. My parents continued our annual trip to take me to greet Santa. However we stood with the crowd, which gathered each year on the south west corner of W. Market and S. Beaver Streets, to watch Santa arrive and climb the ladder to his castle. Those were wonderful days.
I also remember that there was a home in the area of The Avenues, possibly Pennsylvania Ave, where Christmas trees were sold in the side yard. After greeting Santa at the Roosevelt Ave. Airport, my daddy used to stop there. We would pick a tree and take it home, where my mother would be waiting with the decorations she had retrieved from our attic.
By evening that tree would be decorated and would shine brightly in our bay window each night until New Year’s night. I think that the Christmas tree stand may have been in the yard of the home of the Strathmeyer family, who today operate one of the state’s largest tree farms. I am not sure of this though.