Keeping the Tree Lighting Tradition Alive
By Marti Warren
The lighting of our town holiday tree has become an Amherst tradition. It was originally the idea of resident Richard Smith who headed a committee in the early 1960’s that composed a request for money for a community tree that would be strung with holiday lights, it also included funding of white window lights for the Town Hall building. The results were magical, rumor has it the snow started to fall that night and a tradition was begun. The response to this single event was so generous that within 3 years candles, timers, a floodlight at the town hall, and other equipment had been purchased. Many in the village followed suit. The committee planning the event continued to function under the direction of Mrs. Hamilton Dunbar for several years and then dissolved.
A “Christmas Celebration Coordination Committee” was needed, and the Amherst Junior Women’s Club were willing to take it on. Selectmen Peter Lyon recalls his dad, Elliot and Harding Sortevik helping this group, placing the lights on the tree for several years. It was organized in 1965 so that residents met by the tree on a Sunday at 5pm and the tree would be lit while singing holiday carols.
The tree across from the Brick School became the town tree from 1975-2009 and the Town Fire Department did the placing of the lights with their ladder truck. The tree grew to be quite large and hard to fill with lights, it also was diseased and was eventually removed. The tree used by the Amherst Garden Club became the town tree until 2015. Once again disease struck this tree, and the committee was in search of another tree to use. The Amherst Garden Club was willing to let the town use the tree they called their “Memory Tree.” It was in a perfect location with our beautiful Town Hall behind it. The fire department continued to place lights on the tree through 2020. Over the many years the fire department lit the tree, the tree continued to grow, making it difficult to put the lights on safely using the fire department truck.
The desire to make our holiday tree look more festive, Tom and Marti Warren took over the lighting of the tree. It was their desire to make it a breathtaking reminder of our past holiday trees! There is no budget for the tree lights or the “Tree Lighting Festival,” which happens annually, the second Friday in December. In 2021 a fundraising event was started through the The Amherst Community Foundation. The hope was to raise enough money over a few years to cover the cost of lights for the tree as well as the planting of additional trees and shrubs on this popular area we call the Amherst Green. Your donation will be tax deduction and is easy to donate. The Amherst Foundation was started by residents in 2014 seeking to improve the quality of life in Amherst by raising and providing funding for programs that benefit our community. We hope you will consider a donation to this wonderful town tradition. You do not need to be a resident of Amherst to donate. Many of you reading this probably remember how you felt the first time Santa and the crowd did the count down for the switch to be thrown for the lights. It always brought a huge cheer and a “wow” and with your donation this can continue to be for many years to come.
This year the tree has used 1500 LED lights. Not all LED lights are equal. We took our time to find the ones that would work the best. We like using the LED lights because they use very little power. The tree is lit for 4 weeks 8+ hours per day. We are diligent about removing the lights as soon as we can, to preserve them for future years and protect the growing tree. The lights on the bottom get removed by ladder and the top ones by a lift in the spring. The cost for rental of the lift seems to go up every year. We need to use it twice to put the lights on and take them off. It is our hope to raise money to cover the cost to maintain the lights on the tree as well as cover the cost of renting a lift to put them on and remove them come spring. We need to make sure we always have a tree on the green for our lights in the future, planting new trees is also in the budget.
We hope you will consider a donation to this wonderful town tradition. You do not need to be a resident of Amherst to donate. Many of you reading this probably remember how you felt the first time Santa and the crowd did the count down for the switch to be thrown for the lights. It always brought a huge cheer and a “wow” and with your donation this can continue to be for many years to come.
Thank you we hope you will consider a donation to this wonderful holiday event. Certainly, a tradition we want to keep alive for our beautiful town.
Politics and War:
New Issue of Historical New Hampshire
CONCORD, NH – Authors Michael J. Birkner and Mike Pride are well-known New Hampshire historians, long-standing friends, and former colleagues at the Concord Monitor. In the next issue of Historical New Hampshire, the magazine published by the New Hampshire Historical Society which is out today, the two writers present a pair of articles that explore the state’s history at critical moments, albeit nearly 100 years apart.
Birkner’s photo essay, “Bringing Out the Vote,” captures the spirit of the
state’s first modern presidential primary election, highlighting the quirkiness and fun of political campaigning at the birth of retail politics. Birkner traces the pivotal roles of Granite Staters throughout the presidential campaign of 1952, including the New Hampshire primary, the tumultuous Republican National Convention, and the eventual inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Photographers E. Harold Young of Pittsfield and Whitman Levansaler of Concord captured these events in two remarkable collections of rarely seen images. Given the current precariousness of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, this photo essay reminds us how it all got started in the Granite State.
Pride’s article, “‘The Great Army of the Sick,’” follows the story of Civil War nurse Harriet P. Dame, who spent the winter of 1862–63 caring for wounded and sick New Hampshire soldiers in Washington, D.C., hospitals. Dame’s network of aid workers, many of whom were women serving as volunteers, kept track of the state’s ailing men, corresponded with their families, and all too often oversaw their burial. Pride’s research provides a window on an aspect of the Civil War that does not usually receive much attention: the story of what happens to men after the guns stop firing. Pride’s article, and his recently published book on which the article is based, No Place for a Woman: Harriet Dame’s Civil War (Kent State University Press, 2022), relied on a caché of Dame’s letters that were acquired by the New Hampshire Historical Society in 2019.
Historical New Hampshire is a benefit of membership in the New Hampshire Historical Society. Copies are available for purchase through the Society’s online store at nhhistory.org; or by calling 603-228-6688.
Founded in 1823, the New Hampshire Historical Society is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to saving, preserving, and sharing New Hampshire history. Nowhere will you find a more extensive collection of objects and archives related to New Hampshire's history. The Society shares these vast collections through its research library, museum, website, publications, exhibitions, and youth and adult educational programs. The Society is not a state-funded agency. All of its programs and services are made possible by membership dues and contributions. For more information about the Society and the benefits of membership, visit nhhistory.org or call 603-228-6688.