Pastime: When Santa had a little house in downtown Warren

Here is a Pastime when there was a Santa House in downtown Warren.

By Maylon T. Rice

The week after Thanksgiving, the Warren Chamber of Commerce, under the tutelage of James Ernest, who would later be the Bradley County Judge (1965-68 and again, 1975-76) quickly constructed a small white-frame building on the corner of Cypress and Main in Warren.

The Chamber of Commerce sponsored this community wide Santa Claus House. As a child of the 1960s, that little Santa House was an important fixture in the downtown shopping community this time of year.

The little white wooden frame building couldn’t have been 20 square feet. It was just barely big enough for a rocking chair and Santa Claus inside. 

It had wooden walls, real glass windows, a big front door and lots of holiday decorations. 

And it sat on the first two parking spaces right on the corner of Cypress and Main, with its door opening out facing the back door of J.T. Edrington’s across the red bricks of Main Street.

It was a feature of the very progressive Chamber of Commerce, so all the many retailers along Main (from the YMCA on the north all the way to the U.S. Post Office on the south) didn’t have to have their own Santa sitting in every store along Main.

Warren in the 1940s notice the Christmas lights strung across Main Street. This photo taken from the Bradley County Courthouse facing the south side and the front of J.T. Ederington Co., and Wayne’s.

There was a large hand painted sign (no doubt by Oscar King Littlefield) the one-time part-owner in the Eagle, who could hand letter any sign in any print font as deftly as Michelangelo.

The sign posted out in the street gave the dates and times that the little fat man dressed in red and white fur would be inside this little house.

If memory serves me right, the late John Luther Hartsell, was instrumental in Santa being present on site. 

And so was the tall, thin street patrolling policeman, walking the downtown beat, the late Milton Parrott.

Parrott, in between his appointed duties to walk the business district, seemed to be helping Santa with his appointments. Parrot would be there talking with Santa and keeping the line moving and from taking too long, as the ruddy-cheeked wish granter could be overwhelmed by a crowd of country kids on a Saturday afternoon as the Yule Shopping rush was on.

Another smaller wooden sign, stapled on the door, said one should:

“Knock three times to see Santa.”

After the first or second knock, a booming voice would begin the “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

And if you were a kid, a little bit scared of the white bearded man, that loud “Ho, Ho, Ho,” often set one’s feet to running.

But if you stayed put, the kind voice would say, “Come in my little friend. Santa Claus wants to see you.”

It often took more than one or two tries of knocking on the door to get me and my brother both in the tiny house.

My younger brother, Iry, would flat race down Main, me often catching him about Grady Hugh’s Café or Carl’s Shoes. Once, he got all the way to West Brothers, just past Ben Franklin’s Five and Dime before I caught him and we walked back up one side of Main to the Santa House.

Santa was all decked out, sitting in a big wooden rocking chair and ready to listen to your copious requests. 

Often, he had a copy of the Letters To Santa, which was already printed in the Eagle Democrat for ready reference in case you forgot.

At the end of what seemed a terrifying eternity. Santa would hand you a simple commercial Christmas stocking of a mesh variety loaded with some hard red peppermint candy, a few green plastic U.S. Army infantry men, (for the boys) and a couple of plastic dolls (for the girls), an orange and maybe some wrapped chocolates, all courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce.

I always made it across the room ten times faster than I had made it from the door to Santa’s lap on the way into the room.

“John Luther,” as he was known all over Bradley County, always made Santa’s visit to Warren a little more personal than many of us would ever know until we grew up. 

Santa, it seemed, always knew our moms and dads’ names, all our relatives and where we lived.

Harry Lee “Buddy” McCaskill, who logged two decades (1973-1993) as the Chamber of Commerce manager in Warren, was once quick to remind me as I was asking questions about this childhood memory, he was not the Chamber manager when the Santa house was on going. 

Buddy during those years was down at McCaskill Drug Store with his dad, Mr. John McCaskill, Mrs. Rex Davis, and a collection of others… 

What ever happened to that little Santa House?

 Buddy says it was once stored in the old Hurley Warehouse, but has no doubt gone away with time.

But, oh, the memories of that little Santa House on the corner of Cypress and Main, another Pastime for all Warren to remember.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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