Wetzel Museum Receives a Sleigh
The Wetzel County Museum was recently presented with a gift of a Santa sleigh from the family of George A. Stickler. Four generations of the George Stickler family wife, Gwen Stickler, daughter Lee Martin, granddaughter Jayme Novel, and great granddaughter Riley presented Holly Morgan museum manager of the Wetzel County Museum with the donation of the early 1900s sleigh from the Stickler Christmas Tree Farm.
The George A. Stickler family moved to New Martinsville the summer of 1967. His employment opportunities had taken him out of the state of West Virginia for a few years, but his heart and his family’s hearts remained in West Virginia.
A West Virginia native, George received his Bachelors in Agriculture (1956), followed by an MBA (1970) from West Virginia University. In the summer of 1967, having been a West Virginia County Extension Agent for 6 years prior to his leaving West Virginia, he returned as Wetzel County Extension Agent. During his employment as such, he helped many farmers, agribusiness individuals, landowners, and others with their agriculture and business-related issues and questions.
One such individual was fellow farmer and local veterinarian, Harold Spencer DVM. Both George and Harold raised cattle, with Harold preferring Angus and George preferring the white-faced Herford. George was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and eventually was unable to continue the cattle farm. Harold wanted the Stickler farm for his cattle, and George wanted the Spencer farm for hunting, so the two traded farms. Included in the farm swap was a barn containing a buggy, surrey, and sleigh, which Harold had received as payment for veterinarian services. This is how the sleigh became part of the Stickler family history.
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture, Gus Douglass, and WVU’s Dean of the College of Agriculture and Forestry, Robert Maxwell, offered George the position of West Virginia State Farm Director, which he accepted.
During his employment as the State Farm Director, George began looking for something to give him something in his personal life that he could do and would be related to the field of agriculture. After much discussion, it was decided Christmas tree production was a sure fit. “I could catch a Christmas tree,” said George. There was no need to worry about building and mending fences, and the hours were better. George could be doing something productive outdoors, as well as creating many fond memories for families and children. According to Gwen, it was something to “get him out of the house”.
The plan, in the beginning, was to develop only a wholesale business. Over time, word of the Christmas tree farm on American Ridge spread. Families began calling the Sticklers, asking if they could purchase their own, family Christmas tree. People wanted to bring their children and grandchildren to the farm to choose and cut their own tree. George and Gwen thought it was a wonderful idea. The popularity grew and more and more families were coming to find that perfect tree. The Sticklers felt it was a wonderful family activity that every child should have the opportunity to enjoy.
George and Gwen decided to drop the wholesale operation and soon began operating a choose and cut business that would not only provide Christmas trees to many individual families, but that would provide them with feelings of warmth and delight, as well as a sense of doing something worthwhile.
Over the years they got to watch children’s eyes light up as they helped their parents select a tree, cut it down, and drag it back to the car. “The snowy, cold, and wet days are okay when you witness this,” George once said.
The sleigh was occasionally used at the Christmas tree farm and in the local Christmas parade (see 1982 picture of Santa in the sleigh). The sleigh was featured in the New Martinsville Christmas Parade this year with the cast and crew of Thoughly Modern Millie and the Wetzel County Museum.
While the exact age of the sleigh is unknown, it is thought to have been built in the early to mid 1900’s. It features mortis and tendon construction and wood runners which are shaped by soaking the wood in water until it become more pliable to be bent into shape. This sleigh is being donated to the Wetzel County Museum in George Stickler’s memory, with the hope that it will bring many smiles and fond memories for future generations. The Wetzel County Museum is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.