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Fresh-Cut Firs: 1903

Fresh-Cut Firs: 1903

New York circa 1903. "Cut Christmas trees at market in front of Barclay Street Station." May all your Christmases be bright and all your ceilings be tall. 6½ x 8½ inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Bring a ruler

I decided, having just moved into my first home with my new bride, that I would return to the family farm in up-state NY to cut down and install a fir tree, thereby cutting out the middleman. After removing two foot from the bottom, then another two foot from the top, I ruefully conceded to my amused wife that this bloated monstrosity would simply fill our entire living room and wound up turning it into garlands. P.S. I had to pay $8.00 for a decent mini tree.

Rooted in tradition

I think if you look up the history of Christmas trees in this country, you'll find that they started with the upper crust and worked their way down. Christmas trees became popular in England after Queen Victoria married her German husband, Prince Albert. He introduced them to Britain. They became popular with the American upper crust shortly after that. Common folk might have had small carved wooden representations of trees, or other similar decorations. Veteran Shorpyers will remember some of the big fancy trees shown at various times going back to the turn of the century.

Holy crossarms!!

Sure, the Christmas trees are interesting but what really caught my eye was the telephone pole line with the insane amount of crossarms!

No fewer than 100 arms, on just eight poles stretching maybe only two or three city blocks.

As a lineman by trade, I can't imagine the man-hours necessary to build all that across the whole city, without power tools, bucket trucks, or probably any proper safety equipment.

Each and every one of those had to be drilled out by hand with a brace-and-bit, and hoisted up on a hand-line, by linemen who climbed the pole.

And if you've never felt a crossarm, they're heavy, probably a good 50 pounds each. And after all that is done, the stringing of all that wire is no small task.

That was when men were really men, and I kinda feel like a wimp now!

Electrical trees

More impressive than the Christmas trees are the number of electrical wires on the poles at the right.

Trees for the Rich

Those trees are expensive! $5 in 1901 is about $100 today. That makes the large spruce $600. I'd be haggling over the price too.

Ooooooh That Smell!!

Can't you smell that smell! Heavenly!

Telephone Poles

In all the old photos of the city, there are always a mass of phone lines. I would guess that each telephone had its own wire on the pole. If that is the case, there wouldnt be much more space for new customers.

Make a wreath!

Cut the tree to fit, and you'll have plenty of material to make a Christmas wreath.


They weren't kiddin' around with those power telephone lines.

Tribute to an unknown hero

Just look at the individual lines on those telephone poles! It's a visible tribute to the man who invented the cable!

Tall trees, taller buildings

It's somehow strange for me to think of Christmas trees being sold like this in Manhattan so many years ago. I do remember them being sold at curbside in Greenwich Village back in the 1960s, on Sixth Avenue and on Hudson Street. Since I lived in a fifth-floor walkup on West 12th Street at that time, I wasn't much interested in lugging a tree up five flights to have on display for only a week or two.

Hello, Operator

130 telephone lines!

So many wires and crossarms

So many wires and crossarms on the poles... Are these telephone lines or telegraph circuits?

Lobby Trees

I imagine the tallest of these would have been for department stores or hotel lobbies. Or for setting up outside.


Goldman Sachs at 200 West Street sits where the pier used to be.

Three bits for the 16-footer

Looks like the two men on the right might be haggling over price. Any one on Shorpy have a clue what Christmas trees were going for in 1895?

[From a 1901 article in the New York Times: Small firs cost around $5; a large spruce, $30. - Dave]

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