The Christmas tree on South Hill is a town tradition, keeping its post for nearly four decades, lit every night during the holiday season. But if you get up close, (not an easy task) you’ll see it’s not a tree at all, but a 16-foot structure made from pressure-treated wood, and 50 lightbulbs, and bolted to a hemlock tree, conveniently located at the bottom of a rock ledge.
It began around 35 years ago when two town residents ran an electrical line up the hill to a cable line. The tree was constructed soon thereafter, lit, and ever since has helped to visually warm a town where winter hits hard. By the early 1990s the tree’s wooden structure began to deteriorate, so Robert Birch, the town’s road foreman at the time, got permission from the town to bring the tree back to life, and run a new electric line up the hill. Birch built a new frame at the town garage, drove up the hill, lugged the new structure a half mile through the woods, and re-lit the tree.
The town now supplies the electricity, and each year the tree is inspected from below with a pair of binoculars for any lightbulb outages. Birch’s brother John added a touch more cheer to the tradition when he began playing Christmas tunes out of two large speakerphones on the hill, a tradition carried on by his granddaughter Jodie and played from 4 to 8 each night. “If you come this way around 5 or 6 at night and you drive through the downtown, you’re going to hear and see Christmas at the same time,” said Robert Birch.