By Chance Chamberlain
For decades families have loaded into their vehicles to go to a Christmas tree farm to choose the perfect tree to place in the living room. Christmas Tree Lane in East Lynn was that place not only for Cass County families, but people from throughout the Kansas City area for over three decades.
Many people say they relish those memories.
Harrisonville resident Brett Jones shared he remembers his visits to the destination quite well. He said, “I lived on the corner of EE growing up, so we were really close to Christmas Tree Lane. I remember my parents taking me there to get my picture on Santa’s lap and I would always try to hide from him because he was scary back then. I do not remember if we ever bought a Christmas tree out there, but we always visited for pictures.”
Oscar and Genevieve Urquhart developed the 120 acres they owned in the mid1950s. During the development they began to grow Christmas trees and later in 1963 they officially opened “Christmas Tree Lane” for business, and it was the largest ‘choose and cut’ Christmas tree farm in the state of Missouri.
Scott Friedrich said they had a lot of attractions at the farm.
“I worked there when I was a young kid and I mostly worked in the little Christmas store that was on the property. Of course, sometimes I helped trim trees, cut them down and load them onto customer vehicles because it was an intense job,” Friedrich said. “On the farm you had the Christmas trees, and a Christmas store and Santa would be there to hear what the kids wanted under the tree. The main attraction was a giant Santa Claus that stood about 40 feet tall.”
Business was booming at Christmas Tree Lane and multiple local people refer to the excitement that was built up when the Santa Claus was visible from the road.
Friedrich said, “That giant Santa brought in a lot of people to the farm. It was truly a spectacle to take in because it was an ugly old Santa. It was made from plaster and rebar, but the people who visited Christmas Tree Lane seemed to love that big thing.”
Jones said he remembers seeing Santa standing in the yard.
“The real Santa Claus would usually sit by the feet of the giant statue and that statue used to scare me to death because I thought it was creepy looking. I remember its feet were big and that is where you would do Santa pictures, so I did not have
a choice to sit still for a picture for my mom,” Jones said.
According to Sunny Gentry, the granddaughter of Oscar and Genevieve Urquhart, the giant Santa Claus statue came from Mexico. The Santa Claus statue greeted each family who drove up the driveway to pick out their family tree.
Commercials for Christmas Tree Lane, featuring the 40-foot Santa Claus were a staple on Kansas City television during the business’ nearly two-decade run. Friedrich later worked for the farm as a security guard and said the business attracted many customers from all over the Kansas City metro area.
“When I worked security, the owners would trust me to make sure nobody was stealing and to hold on to the daily earnings. There were times when I would hold $40,000 or $50,000 in my jacket on any given day,” Friedrich said. “It was pretty amazing to see the number of people who would make the drive from Kansas City or Grandview or Independence to buy Christmas Trees at the farm in East Lynn.”
He added, “It was pretty amazing to see the reach that a small rural business, like Christmas Tree Lane, had on the surrounding areas.”
In 1991 Christmas Tree Lane closed its doors after a long family dispute over the farm after Oscar and Genevieve died. After their deaths, Del Dunmire purchased the famous Santa Claus. He stored in it several locations, but the most controversial was in the parking lot on Mechanic Street between Lexington and Independence, the lot which is currently used for the Beck Event Space.
When the city complained to Dunmire about the eye-sore that was the giant Santa Claus in the center of downtown Harrisonville, Dunmire moved the statue to sit in the empty lot at the end of W. Mechanic Street. The statue sat there for several months until it was destroyed in an arson fire.
Retired firefighter David Ullery remembers the radio call he received when on duty that night.
He said, “The fire chief called for help over the radio and I remember what he said to this day: ‘We have a fully involved Santa Claus.’ We showed up and the thing was already burned to the point of no return because that plaster it was made from burned really fast.”
Dunmire elected not to pursue criminal charges after the incident and the remnants of the giant Santa Claus were removed from the scene.
Although the artifacts from Christmas Tree Lane are either gone or packed away in a box somewhere, the memory of the famed Christmas tree farm lives on through those who visited. Social media posts arise each year about the memories made at Christmas Tree Lane where the people who got to experience the magic of the farm share their stories.