How to Buy a Christmas Tree in 19th Century Brooklyn


    Editors note: This post originally ran in 2016 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.

    The holiday season may be a bit different this year, but the sidewalks of Brooklyn will still be green and fragrant despite the cold weather when Christmas tree sellers line up on pathways around the city to sell their symbols of the season.

    It wasn’t always so easy to procure a tree in New York City. Sales of the conifers started in the 1850s, the same decade the German cultural tradition of Yuletide pines soared in popularity in the U.S. (One inspiration was a lithograph depicting Queen Victoria’s tree published in Godey’s Lady’s Book.)

    A hunt for the story of the very first Christmas tree salesman in New York City turns up the same tale oft repeated: A “jolly woodman” named Mark Carr had the idea to bring trees from his land in the Catskills two weeks before Christmas in 1851. He set up a stand at the corner of Greenwich and Vesey Street at the Washington Market in Manhattan and sold out his supply.

    A source is rarely cited to verify the tale but it may have originated with an 1878 article in the New-York Daily Tribune that described Carr’s “lucky speculation in conifers”; the story was repeated in a New York Times article in 1880.

    ny christmas tree history sidewalk sales

    New-York Daily Tribune, 1878. Article via Library of Congress

    Whether the details of that first lot are fact or folklore, Christmas tree sales reached Brooklyn in the 1850s. The Brooklyn Bazaar, located on Atlantic Avenue between Clinton and Henry streets, offered “handsome” trees for sale to Brooklynites in December 1855.

    ny christmas tree history sidewalk sales

    Christmas trees for sale in Brooklyn in 1855. Article via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

    Christmas tree sales quickly flourished. In 1880, the New York Times estimated that 200,000 trees would be brought into the City, with “large bushy trees” costing $8 or $10.

    That would be almost $200 in 2015 dollars. The average price of a Christmas tree today? The National Christmas Tree Association says the national average paid for a tree in 2015 was just over $50.

    ny christmas tree sales sidewalk

    Christmas trees bound for New York City, circa 1910-1915. Image via Library of Congress

    Related Stories
    Mrs. Sittig’s Christmas
    The Extravagant Christmas Lights of Dyker Heights (Photos)
    A Brief Brooklyn Winter Wonderland (Photos)

    Email with further comments, questions or tips. Follow Brownstoner on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

    Brooklyn in Your Inbox

    * indicates required

    What's Happening