Communication Builds Our Community

Woman's Club of Lake Wales to Recreate a Century Old Tradition

It's starting to feel like the Holiday Season! Whatever it may be that gives you that festive feeling – the festive lights being switched on in the city, the first pumpkin pies appearing in the stores or that friend who always seems to put up the tree in the middle of November– for many of us, the festive period is a time to look forward to.

However, for some of us, it may not be such a joyous time as we seem to find ourselves at loose ends on that Special Day. Maybe loved ones we spent all our holidays with have passed away or family members live too far away and are lock down due to COVID-19, or maybe we just moved to a new place where we don't know anyone yet or we simply don't celebrate the Holidays.

That's where community Holiday Celebrations come in. Community–or public–trees have been a part of the American Holiday season for over 100 years. More than just pretty decorations in public spaces, these trees were originally meant to play a significant role in bringing communities together across socio-economic and ethnic boundaries. Numerous books and scholarly reports have chronicled these presentations and the specific social ills they were meant to mollify at different times and in different parts of the country.

The first community Holiday Celebration in Lake Wales took place on Dec. 23, 1922. A large live cedar tree was erected under the direction of the Woman's Club, in Depot Park near Crystal Lodge (where the Woman's Club of Lake Wales now stands today), which was in the heart of the city at that time. The tree was gaily decorated with hand-made glittering ornaments and colored electric lights. But what was particularly special were the 710 Christmas Stockings on the tree filled with fruit, nuts, and a Christmas favor, all made for the children. Every child in the city was invited to the Celebration, and, if a child could tell Santa whose birthday was celebrated at Christmas, they received one of the special stockings. The tree was a pretty sight, not only for the local people, but for people passing through town by railroad or auto.

The Community Tree was left standing until the end of the year for all to enjoy. A smaller cedar tree was planted near the site to serve as the Community Tree in years to come. The Woman's Club decorated and lit the tree for many years but had to quit doing that when vandals started breaking the lights and stealing the ornaments.

As individuals, we are told that we are nothing without our roots, and so we need to find our roots, which we do in immersing ourselves in our community. When we join together as a community, we enrich the cultural soil out of which we were born. The GFWC Woman's Club of Lake Wales wants to return to their roots, supporting and enriching the community we live in.

The Community Holiday Tree was a source of inspiration in hard times when our city was being established. And just as in those days, we are now experiencing hard times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Who knows what the new norm will become? But if we look to our past, we can become rooted in a new tradition that can become a source of hope to the community for future days.

The GFWC Woman's Club of Lake Wales would like to plant a new Community Holiday Tree that can be used in Seasons to come. And although you cannot plant your used cut Christmas Tree from your living room, potted Christmas trees are available for the eco-conscious that can be nurtured and grown from ball roots.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to see a Community Tree that has been planted and nurtured for the specific purpose of bringing people back together after being isolated and discouraged from gathering for the reasons of enjoying a Holiday Season?

Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., an American landscape architect and city planner known for his wildlife conservation efforts, along with fellow landscape architect and Olmsted employee, William Lyman Phillips, took up residence in Lake Wales in the 1920s during the Olmstead firm's creation of what is now known as Bok Tower Gardens. Lesser known is the fact that during that time, the Olmsted firm was also retained to create a landscape plan for the City of Lake Wales, utilizing specific plantings to create a feel of natural landscape. Recently, the Dover Kohl & Partners town planning firm for the revitalization of the City's historic core, readily incorporated the Olmsted design as part of its overall plan.

The Olmsted segment of the plan also has a significant ally in the Lake Wales Heritage Inc. Today, after 90 years, this 501(c)3 corporation joins with a growing league of civic organizations and the City of Lake Wales to restore the grandeur that earned Lake Wales the title of "Crown Jewel of the Ridge." And in the spirit of this effort, the Lake Wales Heritage, Inc, has agreed to support the GFWC Woman's Club of Lake Wales' Civic Outreach Community Service Project Committee in their efforts to incorporate a new Community Tree into their plans for the future.

Just as the original Community Tree was planted in Olmstead's day to bring the new City together in hard times, so will the new Community Tree serve to strengthen the roots of our current community in the new Olmstead plan and help bring all of our citizens together in a new bond of purpose and strength.

The GFWC Woman's Club of Lake Wales is a 501(c)3 organization that began in 1914 as a group of women dedicated to improving Lake Wales and the lives of its citizens. Providing funds, volunteer hours and leadership in the pursuit of that goal over the past 105 year, they are a proud Chapter of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, an international women's organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service. The GFWC Woman's Club of Lake Wales works locally to bring about positive change with an unwavering dedication to community improvement through volunteer service.


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