NC State Extension

Chapter 4: Starting an Association

It’s really unbelievable how things have changed.” 

(Cartner, 2007).

Organizational Meetings for the State Association

A meeting was held on November 5, 1958 and was attended by many people growing Christmas trees. The forestry field meeting was held at W. W Braswell’s in Montezuma, Ira M. Vance’s in Pineola where “balsams” were planted out in a field, Vaughan’s greenhouses where plastic was used in transplant beds, and Anthony Lake Nursery where balsam beds at various stages of growth could be found. Hampton and Gilliam helped host the meeting.

In a letter December 9, 1958 letter from Leonard Hampton to “County agents in Avery, Haywood, Mitchell, Watauga, and Yancey Counties” Hampton writes, “Following our Christmas tree meeting on November 5, I talked to John Gray and Walt Keller concerning out need for more Christmas tree information and a consolidation of our ideas and opinions. As you probably gathered at our meeting; we all have a slight difference of opinion on how to grow and produce trees.” He then told about a planned meeting in Boone on January 8 in the private dining room at the Gateway Café where he, the agents, Sam Mortimer, Phil Griffith with the NC Forest Service, and NC State Foresters including John Gray, Dr. Maki, Walt Keller, John Gilliam and Ed Jones would discuss the culture of white pine and Fraser fir. A follow-up letter from Walt Keller to County Agents also to include Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Alleghany, Ashe and Wilkes would state, “A great deal of interest has sprung up within the past few months in the planting and growing of this particular species, and practically no information is available on how to handle it” (Keller, 1959, Jauary 1). Keller’s letter tells of the intensions for Dwight Brenneman to attend as well. They were requesting that agents develop a “list of problems” to discuss.

Another meeting was planned, possibly by the growers themselves, for M. C. Stewart to meet in Boone on February 16. Stewart was the past president of the National Christmas Tree Association. Called “the Grandfather of the NCTA,” helped found the National Association (Murry Stewart Dies, 1974), and had also helped to set up the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association in 1942 (Dambach, 1980). Gilliam wrote a letter to Stewart on January 15, 1959 about this meeting.

Notes from this meeting still exist at the Special Collections of the NC State Library, D. H. Hill. Of special interest are Stewart’s comments which are quoted as follows: “He emphasized the need for growers to meet and exchange ideas on cultural practices, and he felt this could be done best through organization. But he also cautioned the growers to run their own association, rather than let public agencies take the lead. He also emphasized that all growers, to be successful in growing Christmas trees, had to grow quality trees. He stated that the Northern market was being flooded with cull trees that would not sell; but stated that the demand for quality trees is grater than the supply, with top prices being obtained” (Meeting notes, 1959).

The original meeting of what would eventually become the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association was held in Sam Cartner’s office in the old courthouse in Newland on February 20, 1959. Meeting notes from the February 16 meeting include an invitation from Sam Cartner for all to attend that meeting.

The meeting was scheduled in part based on a January 28, 1959 letter from Cartner to Hampton and Gilliam in which he writes, “I have interest in organizing a Christmas tree growers’ association in Avery County and I would like for you people to give me a date that you could meet with the producers and discuss the purpose and help in organizing the growers of Avery County.” Unfortunately, the notification of that first meeting in theAvery Journal is lost as a fire destroyed the newspaper office. The issues that survived the fire began again in May 21, 1959.

No one I spoke with including Cartner, Dellinger or Gilliam, remembered any details about this first meeting. Conrad Weatherman did remember Bill Aldridge finding him in one of his fields and asking him to join them (Weatherman, 2007). Weatherman had never met Aldridge before, so it appears that they were literally beating the woods looking for people who might be interested in joining.

The impetus to start the association began the year before when Herman Dellinger had approached Aldridge, who was serving as the first president of the NC Nurserymen Association, about a Christmas tree association (Hundley, 2009). “Bill Aldridge was a close friend of Herman’s and agreed to help the new Fraser fir growers of Crossnore get organized” (Hundley, 2009, p. 11). It is not known how many others were interested in starting such an Association, or how the emphasis was drawn away from starting an Avery County Association to a state Association.

According to an April 13 letter from Bill Aldridge to John Gray, another meeting was set for May 14 and 15 in Cartner’s office. In this letter, Aldridge describes himself as the president of the NC Christmas Tree Growers’ Association. In another letter to John Gilliam with no return address it was stated that at this meeting, which actually took place on May 8, that the North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers Association would approve a constitution and by-laws. This meeting was advertised in a press release dated May 6 and sent to all County Extension Agents in North Carolina by Gilliam. He said the meeting would be in “Newlin” and they would discuss the “Frazier” fir. To get people interested, he quoted an average wholesale price of $1.50 per tree. The County Extension Agents at the time were: Alleghany – R. E. Black; Ashe – A. B. Addington; Avery – Sam Cartner; Buncombe – W. R. Palmer; Burke – J. R. Allen; Haywood – V. L Holloway; Jackson – P. J. Gibson; Madison – H. G. Silver; Mitchell – G. W. Conrad; Watauga – L. E. Tuckwiller; and Yancey – E. L. Dillingham.

Though the Avery Journal issues were lost from early May, the Tri-County News is still available. In the April 30, 1959, edition on the front page was the following article.

North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers Will Meet at Newland May 8

North Carolina Christmas tree growers will meet in the Newland Court House on Friday night, May 8 at 7:30.

The purpose of this meeting as indicated by the president William Aldridge of Crossnore is to complete the organization, the adoption of the by-laws and constitution. Anyone in the area interested in the production of Christmas trees is invited and urged to become a member of the association and help the promotion of quality trees.

Jack W. Wiseman, Avery County Christmas tree grower, recounted that meeting as follows:

I can remember the first meeting we had in Crossnore to try to form an association for the Christmas tree growers. Bill Aldridge, Sam Cartner, Tom Dellinger, Herman Dellinger, Sandy Davison were the people I remember being there, but others were also there. I was home from college and Bill Aldridge took me under his wing and taught me a lot about the growing of Christmas trees.

Bill, as I remember, became the first president of the Tree Growers and I started attending meetings with him. I remember going to Brevard and the old experiment station with him to meet with other growers and look at seedlings (Through the fields… Industry memories and accolades, 1999, p. 8).

Sandy Davison was a forestry consultant who helped start a large Christmas tree farm in Ashe County that would end up being purchased by Dale Shepherd (Anderson, 2009).

One of the things that might have been discussed at this meeting was a ruling by the Forest Service. In an April 29, 1959, letter to William Aldridge from F. H. Claridge, State Forester from the Department of Conservation and Development, it was reported that the forestry committee had met to discuss the request of the North Carolina Christmas tree Growers Association and “that the Division of Forestry pioneer in the production in its nurseries of southern balsam seedlings and transplants to assist in the developing the Christmas tree growing industry in western North Carolina.” Also reported was the ruling “that southern balsam seedlings and transplants for Christmas tree production may be resold by the purchaser with roots attached.” In other words, a person could purchase seedlings, grow them out a few more years, and then resell them.

By June, Dellinger sent the announcement that the North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers Association had formed was sent to Stewart. This June 9 letter stated that William Aldridge was the President, Fred Taylor was the Vice-President, and Herman Dellinger the Secretary/Treasurer. A letter was quickly sent back to Herman Dellinger stating that the member organizations could join the National Christmas Tree Association for $50 plus $1 for each member which entitled them to issues of the American Christmas Tree Growers’ Journal.

What may well have been the first educational meeting of the newly formed Association was held at Anthony Lakes Nursery which was reported on July 16, 1959, Avery Journal (Avery County nurserymen meet, 1959). Included are photos showing Fraser fir growing at Anthony Lakes Nursery, which may have originally been intended as nursery plants. It was reported that the Avery County nurserymen met and hosted a Nursery Short Course that was attended by 60 people. These may have been the trees pictured in the 1958 Forest Service Bulletin.

Other early correspondence asked for a copy of the Pennsylvania Constitution and by-laws for their association (Dellinger, 1959, June 24). A July 14 letter was sent from Dellinger to Cy Heath about having a trademark designed for the association.

The Articles of Incorporation

On August 27, 1959, the articles of incorporation were signed for the North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers Cooperative, Inc. All signers were Avery County growers including: William Aldridge, Crossnore; Herman Dellinger, Crossnore; S.K. Mortimer, Jr., Newland; Andrew E. Vaughan, Jr., Pineola; and Conrad Weatherman, Spruce Pine. Sam Mortimor ran Anthony Lake Nursery. Andy Vaughan also had a nursery in Pineola. Weatherman actually lived in Ingalls Community of Avery County though his address was listed as Spruce Pine in Mitchell County. Another Avery County grower, Fred Taylor, who had been previously listed as the vice-president, had his name crossed out. These articles were granted as of September 9, 1959 (Hughes, 1959).

In the articles, the purpose of the new association was as follows:

  1. To associate its members and others for the cooperative marketing of Christmas trees, wreaths and other greenery.
  2. To act as a marketing agent for its members of all agricultural products including seeds, fertilizers, farm machinery, farm supplies and equipment, and tree decorations.
  3. To engage in any activity in connection with the production, financing, assembling, marketing, selling, preserving, standardization and grading, storing, processing and distribution of agricultural products.
  4. To act as agent or broker for its members or others.

Other articles in the document describe how the association would be run including the duties of officers, the board of directors, and how meetings would be held. It was also stated that “This corporation shall exist for fifty years.”

Early Marketing of the New Industry

On October 6, 1959, the following was reported in the Avery Journal about a Christmas tree exhibit.

The NC Christmas tree growers are sponsoring a Christmas tree exhibit at the Dixie Classic Fair at Winston-Salem the week of October 6-10. This is the first tree exhibit that has been offered in any of the fairs throughout the state. Those who are planning to help with putting up the exhibit are Bill Aldridge, Crossnore, President of the NC Christmas Tree Growers Association and Herman Dellinger, secretary of this organization. They will also take trees to be exhibited from Avery County including frazier firs and white pines (Christmas tree exhibit, 1959).

The arrangements for this display were discussed in a June 19 letter to Bill Aldridge from John Gilliam that Mr. Neil Bolton, manager of the fair, would include the display. It was suggested that an exhibit be set up at the NC State Fair the following year. He also suggested a banner made up to say, “Sponsored by: The N. C. Christmas Tree Growers Association in cooperation with the N. C. Extension Service.”

Several more articles appeared in the Avery Journal in November of 1959. On November 5 was an article on Christmas tree species describing Fraser fir, Norway spruce and white pines grown for Christmas trees. On November 26 was an article entitled “Shearing Christmas Plants” which had a picture of Leonard A. Hampton, Forestry Extension Specialist, shearing Fraser fir with two-handed hedge shears.

In that same paper was notification of the sale of Fraser fir seedlings. “Fraser fir and white pine seedlings are available from the State Nursery. This year for the first time there is a limited number of Fraser fir 3-1 stock available to land owners at $60/1,000. Also available are 2-1 for $20/1,000.” One individual could get as many as 5,000 seedlings.

In the Christmas Eve edition of the Avery Journal in 1959, the following article was found. With this article was a photo of John Gilliam checking trees at Anthony Lake Nursery.

Christmas Trees

Avery County is the capital of the Christmas Tree Industry in North Carolina. There are several large growers of nursery stock and Christmas Trees in the County and hundreds of small growers with an acre or less.

The cool summers and above average rainfall makes Avery County an ideal place to grow Christmas Trees.

Fraser Fir, considered by many Christmas Tree dealers as the best Christmas Tree species in the country, grows well in all parts of the county. It grows in natural stands at 4,500 feet and above, and is grown in plantation at the lower elevations. Other species such as White Pine, Norway Spruce, Scotch Pine, Blue Spruce grow very well in the rich fertile soil of the county.

A Christmas Tree Growers Association has been organized. The purpose of the association is for growers to exchange ideas and know-how in growing Christmas Trees. The code of the association is “Quality.” Meetings and demonstrations are held to pinpoint some of the growers’ problems, so solutions can be found and applied. The N. C. Forestry Extension Service is working with the growers through the association to give guidance and help where needed.

A need for research in growing Christmas Trees is recognized, and steps are being taken to get some of this research under way.

The marketing of Christmas Trees in the county is usually done by individual growers. Some of the trees are retailed direct to the consumer in the county, but a large majority of the trees are sold wholesale to truckers from out of state who in turn sell wholesale to Christmas Tree retailers in other areas. This type sale is unusually undesirable, because the growers are not getting their share of the profits.

An organized marketing program is needed. Small growers can group their trees together and sell direct to the retailer. By doing this they can demand top price for their quality trees and establish a stable market from year to year.

A sound marketing program will depend on the willingness of the growers to organize and work together toward a common goal: grow high quality trees that will demand top price in the Christmas Tree trades.

The farmers and landowners of Avery County can reap a rich harvest form growing Christmas Trees if they follow good management practices, and develop a sound marketing program.

The North Carolina Christmas Tree Association had begun.

Written By

Photo of Dr. Jill SidebottomDr. Jill SidebottomExtension Specialist (Mountain Conifer IPM) (828) 684-3562 jill_sidebottom@ncsu.eduForestry & Environmental Resources - NC State University
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