Visiting Christmas Past; Historic Holiday Scenes in Washington County

It’s about time to deck your halls and pull Frosty from that corner in your basement. Downtown decor and Christmas parades are hitting up the county on every corner. However, Christmas decorations and traditions have changed quite a bit since the county was first established. 

Scroll through these historic Christmas photos below to see how the county celebrated the holidays way back when…

Historic Christmas tree with The Tower Heritage Center home to the Washington County Historical Society in Washington County, WI

Above, is a Christmas Tree display from the year 1900. Christmas trees at this time tended to be sparse, (resembling Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree) because they were lit with real candles.

Historic hardware store decorated for Christmas with The Tower Heritage Center in Washington County, WI

This photo shows the decorated interior of A.C. Fuge Hardware Company in West Bend. It was taken around Christmas time about 1910.  No one is identified.

Fuge Hardware was opened in 1869 by A.C. Fuge, Senior. At the time of the photograph, it was operated by sons A.C., Junior, and Herbert A. Fuge. A.C. The building was located on Main Street at the corner of Water Street, which is where the Stewart-Peterson building stands today. Notice the holiday garlands hanging from the ceiling.

Sleigh rides on West Bend's historic Main Street with The Tower Heritage Center in Washington County, WI

Oh, what fun! Hundreds of kids loaded onto horse-drawn sleighs in the middle of Main Street in downtown West Bend. August C. Fuge, Senior, the owner of the hardware and farm implement business mentioned above invited local children and their parents to his annual children’s Christmas party. Fuge had many activities planned from sleigh rides to handing out treats, and even meeting Santa Claus.

Historic holiday decorations on Hartford's Main Street with The Tower Heritage Center

This is an image of Downtown Hartford decorated for Christmas around 1950. This mid-street view looks north on Main Street from the intersection with Sumner Street. Here Santa only has two tiny reindeer instead of eight!

Meat market during the holidays with The Tower Heritage Center in Washington County, WI

William Kortendick supplied the roast beast of holiday dinner tables straight out of his meat market in downtown West Bend. This picture was taken around 1915. The building is located at Main and Hickory Streets. If you look closely you’ll be able to see the hanging string letters wishing customers a “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year.”

Fresh snow in Washington County, WI with The Tower Heritage Center

Mother Nature decorated with a fresh layer of snow just in time for the holidays in 1900. Little Ernst Franckenberg stands on the snow-cleared sidewalk in front of their residence. The view looks south on the east side of Fifth Avenue.  Check out the 1889 Courthouse in the background!

Historic parade float in West Bend, WI with The Tower Heritage Center

Hark the Herald Angels sing! Here is the Sweet Adeline Christmas parade float with Sweet Adeline members in downtown West Bend. The float was made by hand and took months to create. The group sang Christmas carols all the way down Main Street. 

From Left to Right: Backrow: Marty Dumat, Margarite Buss, Gladys Christiansen, ?, Betty Rohrmann. Middle Row: Lorraine Wegner, Babette Rohrmann, Joan Nichash, Ellen Larsen. Front Row: Mary Fuchs, Dorchan Ottmer, Adaline Kilby, Emily Triebe, June Kugler, Roy Christiansen-Director.

Parting Words

Thanks for joining us in visiting Christmas past! If you, or your family, have historic Christmas images or objects, consider donating them to the Washington County Historical Society’s archives. These treasures receive the utmost care and allow us to continue telling our county’s stories for generations.

On that note – Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Bella Bussey is an inventive freelance writer specializing in crafting digital media content. She’s a UW Madison alum and natural-born creative writer. Bella is passionate about engaging the stories of the past with the present to ensure their preservation in the future.

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