Holiday House advertisement as it appeared in the Statesman Journal November 25, 1960.
“One of the Northwest’s greatest yuletide traditions”according to the 1960 Christmas issue of the Florists Telegraph Delivery News magazine, began quite by accident in 1950 when Agnes Schucking, owner of Eola Acres farm offered her home to host a Christmas display. The Schucking family’s floral gift shop located at 4785 Salem-Dallas highway was in the midst of a remodeling project so when construction delays threatened their Christmas business, it must have seemed the logical solution to open up the family home on the property, for the emergency. Holiday House as the annual event came to be known was held daily from Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas Eve each year.
An article in the 1960 Christmas issue of Florists Telegraph Delivery News magazine described the Christmas tradition as follows.
“In a setting of early American décor and antique furniture the [Schucking] home becomes a wonderland of Christmas trees, yule decorations and ornaments, gifts, and arrangements of flowers and greens.”
“A hostess greets the visitors and makes them feel at home as they browse through the house. Coffee and Christmas cookies are served. Guests are given baskets to pick ornaments off the many decorated Christmas trees.
“Holiday House of the Christmas season at the Schucking home annually attracts about 3,000 persons.”
In a follow-up interview with the local paper owner Agnes Schucking described a few of their specialty items.
“There are Christmas wreaths of Scotch broom with snowberries, holly and gourds. They get $3.50 in Portland for them but I sell them for $1 and $1.50. I like to make them and folks like to buy them…. Little corsages made of eleven different kinds of native greens, juniper berries, tiny hemlock cones, cedar and the like. People buy them to send away, they last for two or three weeks you know –I sell them for 50 cents.”
The Schucking family gift shop began as a roadside farm stand in the late 1930s that featured plants, cut flowers, fruits, and other agricultural products grown on their farm, Eola Acres. By 1939 the Capital Journal newspaper reported that Mrs. Schucking’s business had increased to the point where “hundreds of folks drive out to buy those things that are just a little different.” Her Christmas season newspaper ads boasted gold and silvered leaves for center pieces, Christmas wreaths and greens,mistletoe, potted plants, apples and other farm products.
Agnes Gilbert, the driving force behind Eola Acres and its Holiday House tradition was born December 7, 1883 in Salem, to Andrew Nathaniel (A.N.)and Estelle McCully Gilbert. She was the youngest of three children and the only daughter. In 1903 Agnes gained local fame when the Salem Elks lodge crowned her their first Cherry Queen in celebration of the newly inaugurated Cherry Fair. The fair boasted exhibits, games and contests at the fairgrounds, boat races on the Willamette and a floral parade in which Agnes and her court rode through downtown Salem in a new horseless carriage. Loaded with cherry branches, the car carried the court to Willson Park where Miss Gilbert was crowned with a gold tiara of emeralds, rubies and rhinestones borrowed from a Portland jeweler.
In 1904 she married local hop broker Bernard O. Schucking. In1929, the childless couple moved to the Eola Hills area west of Salem. After her husband’s death in 1940 Agnes took over operation of their farm and adopted two adult children. The first, Helene Schultz worked as a maid in their home according to the 1940 census. The second, Robert joined the family after service in World War II. Both children had active roles in the business.
Agnes Gilbert Schucking WHC 2012.029.0137
By this point in her life Agnes had made quite a name for herself and Eola Acres farm, as a successful business woman and talented florist. Eola Acres was featured in a collection of colored motion pictures of Oregon commissioned by Senator Charles L. McNary and filmed by prominent Salem photographer Kathryn Gunnell in the 1940s. National garden clubs and florist organizations recognized Agnes and Eola Acres with awards. But the award that meant the most to Agnes came in 1957 at the age of 74 when she was named Salem’s First Citizen, a firsthand account of which can be found on the Willamette Heritage Center’s YouTube channel.
Agnes died Oct 5, 1969 following an operation for a cancerous tumor and was interred at Mount Crest Abbey Mausoleum beside her husband and parents. A month after her death brought another blow to Eola Acres and the Schucking family with the death of her son Bob. Daughter Helene continued to run the business until 1996.
The Schucking family home and gift shop that hosted Holiday House for so many years are still visible from the Salem-Dallas Highway. Victims of age, weather and neglect, their purpose long forgotten except in the community memories of Christmas traditions long past.
This article was written by Kaylyn F. Mabey for the Statesman Journal where it appeared on December 16, 2018.