54. Christmas at Oak View Farm_Great Depression

This room is known today as the dining room, but a hundred years ago, when a farm manager lived here, it was likely used as a bedroom. It was also a hundred years ago that the world was recovering from the devastation of World War I and a horrible flu epidemic that struck worldwide in 1919. These tragedies caused American families to focus on old traditions and the simpler life led in the 1800s.

At this time, the main house at Oak View was occupied by a manager who operated the farm on behalf of the Wyatt family. The manager supervised several tenant farmers who lived with their families in small houses nearby. If you look out the window to the left of the Christmas tree, you can see the park’s restored Tenant House in the distance. At one time approximately six to eight of these houses stood on the farm. Tenant farmers were given a house to live in and a small percentage of the money made from selling Oak View’s crops in exchange for working the land. After the Civil War, many freed slaves became sharecroppers or tenant farmers and worked farmland owned by someone else.

In October 1929 the world stock market collapsed, forcing businesses and corporations to lay off workers or close down completely. Over a short period of time, millions of people lost their jobs and incomes. This economic disaster, which lasted for ten long years during the 1930s, is known today as the Great Depression.

Although most families in America decorated a Christmas tree by the 1930s, a lot of farm families did not. Many farmers were poor and had little money to spend on Christmas or its traditions. Those who decorated a tree might use paper garlands, or garlands made with popped corn or cranberries. Ornaments might be knitted or crocheted by hand, or hand-me-downs from long ago. Although electric tree lights had been invented around 1900, rural farms like Oak View had yet to receive electric power. It was a luxury that did not arrive here until 1940.

Typical children’s gifts during the Great Depression included a small box of crayons, a box of marbles, a harmonica, hand-stitched handkerchiefs, or a pocket knife. Each of these might cost 25 cents, which was considered an expensive present at the time.

Please walk through the hall and down a few steps into the last room and enter the number ‘55’ to continue.