With the holiday season in full swing, we can all think back to family traditions during this time of the year. Personally, I recall many weekends during my childhood in late November and early December spent driving country roads in my parent’s blue Chevy Caprice station wagon (essentially a Chevy built tank) in search of out of the way Christmas tree farms around central Indiana. Locally, Marion County and Indianapolis host a few present day Christmas tree farms. But one of the original of such farms, a pioneer in area of Christmas tree farming, was owned by Edward Eickhoff, a nurseryman/farmer of German descent who lived, and ran his business, on the southeast side of the city.
Eickhoff was born in March 1851, on a farm near Fall Creek just north of where the former Wishard Hospital now stands. Despite several maps of this area being available, I wasn't able to find any parcel owned by the Eickhoff family. It could be that the family were tenants on someone else's farm.
When young, Edward learned the nursery business near Edinburgh in Johnson County, before obtaining his own land along Churchman Road south of Beech Grove.
In the above map, from the 1889 Atlas of Indianapolis and Marion County, the dashed line cutting diagonally through the map and along the bottom of the Eickhoff Farm is Churchman Road. Present day Thompson Road runs along the bottom of the map, and Five Points Road is on the right side of the image. Various Eickhoff family members, including siblings of Edward, also lived in the area.
Part of a large number of nursery owners of German-descent on the south side of the city, Eickhoff originally cultivated various fruit trees, along with shade and ornamental trees. He also maintained a stand to sell these items at the point of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania (where the Regions Bank building is today).
However, he also had an interest in spruce trees, and began what was reputed by local newspapers to be the first and oldest Christmas tree farm in Marion County, if not the state. According to an advertisement in the Indianapolis Star on December 21, 1908 (below), the tree farm was established in 1870, and provided trees for "entertainment and all holiday occasions." During the holiday season, from the 1890's onward, Eickhoff ran a Christmas tree stand outside the west entrance of the old courthouse facing Delaware Street, and his ads encouraged customers to "Remember See Eickhoff."
A feature in the Indianapolis News titled "All Around Town," in the Indianapolis News on December 22, 1922, highlighted Eickhoff and his long standing Christmas tree business. Calling him a "Christmas tree specialist," the News noted that Eickhoff had been growing Christmas trees for 52 years, and had been selling them from his stand at the courthouse for the past 30 years.
A decade later, on December 9, 1933, Eickhoff was again featured in the 'All Around Town' feature, noting that as "Santa Claus's consistent helper," he would "again be on deck to help that jovial gentleman." Eickhoff was again running his courthouse tree stand, and the News detailed how he helped Santa Claus each year: "Mr. Eickhoff explained to the children that sometimes it is impossible for Santa Claus to bring all the trees himself and he sends huge quantities ahead of time so all the children will be assured of getting their trees by Christmas."
Eickhoff continued to operate his nursery and tree farm into the 1930's, and continued to sell Christmas trees right up to the time of his death when, ion December 18, 1935, Eickhoff died at his nursery. According to the death notice published in the Indianapolis News on December 19, at the time of his death he was still fully involved in his Christmas tree farm, and actually died while working: "He was preparing this year's display last Tuesday when he became ill. He died of a heart attacked while digging a tree for a customer at the nursery." Edward and his wife, Katherine, were to celebrate their 62 wedding anniversary on January 1, 1936.
Today, the site of the Eickhoff nursery on the south side is partially private property, while a large portion (the field area in the image below) is owned by Indy Parks, and is identified on Google Maps as Copper Grove Park, named after a nearby housing subdivision. However, the park does not appear on the Indy Parks website, so the future use of the property is not clear.
Eickhoff, and his wife, who died four years after him, are buried at the nearby at the former Five Points Cemetery, now known as the Saint Johns Lutheran Cemetery. A link to the Find A Grave page for Eickhoff, which also includes links to his various family members, may be viewed here.
Please see materials as cited in text above.