Archways of green garlands filled with brightly colored lights were draped above the streets of downtown Marietta every Christmas during the 1960s and 70s. On both sides of the streets Victorian-style lanterns and large lighted wreaths graced the ends of each garland.
A member of the Marietta Fire Department at the time, Mayor Joe Matthews recalled trimming the city for the holidays every year.
"The Marietta merchants owned the decorations, and the fire department put them up," he said. "The light poles along the streets were different back then. There was a bracket on each pole for the lanterns and a plug for the lights."
Courtesy of Marietta College Special Collections
This photo from the S. Durward Hoag collection shows Putnam Street in Marietta decked out for Christmas in 1972.
Matthews said off-duty firefighters would volunteer to hang the decorations on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
"We used an aerial truck in the middle and pickup trucks on each side, then went down the streets, hanging the garlands and lanterns," he said. "We used to decorate the Frontier Shopping Center, too. Afterward we'd have a big pot of chili. We had a good time."
Those decorations were probably last used in the early 80s, Matthews said.
How to help
To sponsor one or more candy cane decorations, or to volunteer to assist with projects, call the ReStore Marietta office at (740) 885-8194.
Decorative streetlights have replaced the wooden utility poles that used to line Marietta's downtown avenues, which effectively eliminated the ability to string garlands high above the streets.
Today large lighted candy canes, mounted on the light poles, extend out over the streets-thanks largely to the business community and volunteers from ReStore Marietta, an emerging Main Street community organization to which many downtown merchants belong.
"Many years ago the city purchased the downtown decorations, but that became too costly and they had to stop. So the merchants took over. Basically ReStore does this now because the city can't afford it," said Mallory Greenham, executive director of ReStore Marietta.
She said the new decorations aren't cheap. Each 6-foot candy cane costs $275, and for the last two years ReStore has mounted a campaign to install the ornaments on all of the city's 132 light poles.
"We've put up 75 this year, at a cost of over $20,000," Greenham said. "And we want to do more, but price is always a factor."
Barlow Township resident Gary Wilson believes Marietta could put on a better display during the holiday season.
"Displays in other cities seem to be better than the Christmas decorations we have here in Marietta," he said. "I would suggest figurines similar to the Victorian figures they have in Cambridge. But instead of copying the Victorian theme, as a pioneer city Marietta could have a pioneer Christmas theme. And I think it would draw a lot of business downtown."
Wilson said he understands the nearly life-sized figurines, posed on benches and beside lamp posts along six blocks of Cambridge streets, could be costly, but added that Marietta could start with just one or two, then add more each year.
He said the courthouse in Cambridge also has a computerized light and music display, courtesy of a $30,000 donation from a private citizen or business.
But longtime Marietta resident Tammy Clay said she's satisfied with the city's candy cane holiday display.
"I think they look awesome," she said. "I've lived in Marietta all my life. This is an older city, and I think the holiday decorations should be simple. We used to hang candy canes on our Christmas tree every year, and any child knows that candy canes mean Christmas."
Greenham said the Cambridge Victorian display is the product of a 501c3 organization that includes several artists who do fundraising to design and place the figurines along the city streets every year.
"Everything is handmade by local artisans there," she said. "The faces on the figures are made out of paper mache."
Charlotte Keim, president/CEO of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said she has seen the Cambridge display and it is impressive, but Christmas decor is not the main reason people come to Marietta during the holidays.
"People mainly come to downtown Marietta because of our unique shops and businesses," she said, noting that those businesses also decorate for the holidays.
Larry Hall, owner of Baker & Baker Jewelers on Putnam Street, said he tries to build a nice display at his store every year.
"Anything the downtown stores put up is good," he said. "The real decoration of downtown Marietta for Christmas is not just the candy canes on the streets, it's a combination of what everyone does collectively."
Greenham said Marietta could have bigger holiday displays.
"But where is the funding going to come from?" she asked.
Prior to the candy canes, ReStore put up red and white flags with a snowflake design.
"But people complained about those, too," Greenham said. "They called the flags 'handkerchiefs.' So our design committee got together and looked through a holiday display catalog. But price was a real factor."
She said many of the decorations were quite expensive, some in the $3,000 range, so the committee settled on the $275 candy canes which the members felt the local community could afford.
But Greenham said decorating Marietta's downtown is not a main focus of the ReStore group, although volunteers see to it that downtown streets are kept clean and landscaped. The group also helps provide hanging flower baskets and flags for downtown decorations throughout the year.
"We're not a merchant's association, although we have a lot of downtown businesses who participate," she said. "And our projects to improve the city help them a lot. But we're really a community organization focusing on the quality of life for all residents and businesses in Marietta. And a thriving downtown area helps everybody."
Jeri Knowlton, executive director of the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said decorations are part of the holiday ambiance of the downtown area.
"But when we have a unique shopping district, that also plays into the atmosphere," she said. "People want to shop here."
Knowlton added that Greenham and ReStore Marietta can only do so much on their own as they try to build up the city's Christmas decorations.
"We have to start with baby steps," she said. "And if people want to see the holiday displays built up, they should join in and become part of the effort."
Greenham said ReStore always welcomes volunteers and donations to help with any of the organization's programs and projects.