Many folks think that Christmas trees cannot be grown in Alabama, that it takes the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Well, here is my story of growing one of Alabama’s early Christmas tree farms — the Zeigler Christmas Tree Farm outside of Sylacauga.
My father, Bloise Zeigler, was raised on an 80-acre farm in the Russell Chapel area near Fayetteville in Talladega County. About 1951, he bought a 20+ acre farm in the Oak Grove community adjacent to Sylacauga for our growing family. You can’t make a living and support a family of six on 20 acres, so Bloise Zeigler worked full-time at Kimberly-Clarke Newsprint, now Resolute Forest Products, near Childersburg.
As Dad worked full-time, he also worked part-time on his small farm for additional income. Sometimes, a few cattle, chickens or hogs. Always wife Bernice Zeigler’s garden, including a cornfield and strawberry patch — my Mom with a green thumb.
After retiring from the newsprint plant, Bloise Zeigler wanted to utilize the family farm more. He turned to his unofficial adviser on all things agricultural. Dr. John Woodruff is married to my older sister, Ina (to those around Sylacauga, “Ina Gayle.”) John Woodruff is an agricultural genius. Award-winning. The two minds got together and came up with it. Alabama’s soil and climate were perfect for growing Pinus Virginiana. Virginia Pines. Christmas trees.
Bloise and Bernice Zeigler started the area’s first “choose-and-cut” Christmas tree farm. It took just three years for Virginia Pine seedlings to become mature Christmas trees. A nickel seedling could become what then was a $15.00 to $30.00 Christmas tree (They can cost more now). Eastern Red Cedars and Leland Cypress trees were added to the gourmet selection of Christmas trees.
Plan the work and work the plan. By 1979, we were attracting families across East and Central Alabama. The families would make an outing of it. Bring the children and grandchildren. Get your saw from Bloise Zeigler. Rummage through the fields until you find the tree you like. Cut it. Take it up to the Zeigler barn, where you could shake the dead needles out using a “shaker” invented by cousin Mickey Zeigler. And wrap it in a netting using a gizmo invented by Mickey Zeigler, mechanical genius.
In 1996, a tree from the Zeigler Christmas Tree Farm was selected as the official Christmas Tree of the Governor’s Mansion, adorning the inside of the mansion. That was the first time that something Zeigler-grown stayed in the Governor’s Mansion.
For 30 years, families from Birmingham to Auburn, from Gadsden to Clanton, came to the Zeigler Christmas Tree Farm. It became a tradition. It was also a tradition for Bloise Zeigler to witness to the families about salvation through Jesus Christ, the true meaning of Christmas.
Nowadays, all that remains of The Zeigler Christmas Farm is that witness and the pleasant remembrances of thousands of families.
Do you know anybody over age 40 near the Sylacauga area? Ask them about the old Zeigler Christmas Tree Farm. And ask them about Bloise and Bernice Zeigler. You will be amazed at the Christmas stories they tell you. Old-fashioned Alabama Christmas stories.
Jim Zeigler is former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].
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