By GRACE GADDY
Anyone driving past the Anderson County Courthouse on Monday might have noticed a bit of organized commotion around a particularly festive tree in the center of the square.
Wooden reindeer and toy soldiers watched as Palestine Fire Department's Tower One ladder truck stretched high in the sky so workers could drape lights around the live Christmas tree below, which was brought in from Dennison that morning.
A team of volunteers worked around them, collaborating efforts to make Anderson County's historic courthouse square one of the merriest focal points in the city. Volunteers put up wooden cutouts of snowmen and other creatures, strung white lights around the tree, wrapped lampposts in poinsettia-red ribbon, hitched up Santa's reindeer with sparkly gold ropes, and more.
City Manager Wendy Ellis said it's all part of a community-wide effort to adorn and celebrate historic Palestine during the holidays, as well as to commemorate its heritage.
“It's an important time in the community,” Ellis said — noting the boost in visitors that venture through town this time of year — “but it's also important for us as members of the community to just take time and celebrate the season and enjoy the fellowship and the camaraderie that comes with it.
“And we really want to showcase the courthouse square because it's such a great asset for the citizens of Anderson County, and we're really proud that we've been able to maintain it,” Ellis said.
Main Street Manager Laura Westgate called the courthouse “a crown jewel.”
“There's only four like it in the whole state,” she said, referring to its historical facade.
She said efforts to embellish Palestine's historic district have been in the works since last Christmas, which marked the city's first year to highlight the square in a decorative manner.
“It's an amazing partnership that we've been able to build,” she said, “the city and county and private organizations coming together.”
Groups that lent a hand in decorative efforts included the city's Parks and Recreation Department, the Main Street Department, the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce, the Palestine Economic Development Corporation, the Dogwood Garden Club and a host of volunteers from various entities.
A Christmas light designer from Waco was brought in to design the layout of light decorations for the courthouse, since “you can't just stick a nail in a historic building,” Westgate said.
First Congregational Methodist Church in Elkhart built and donated the nativity set.
County Judge Johnston also contributed to the merriment, showing a bit of his carpenter's side by cutting out a few of the Christmas creatures himself.
“He spends hours,” Westgate said of Johnston's involvement. “He's in charge of everything that goes on county-wide, so without his support, we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. It took a judge with a community-minded approach for us to be able to create that kind of coalition.”
And what's a labor of love without sawing up a few reindeer?
“He traces them using a jigsaw, so everything you've seen out there has been hand-cut,” Westgate added.
Since last year, the city has added on to its decorating efforts.
“We took a lot of what we had last year, and we're building on it,” Westgate said.
This year, in addition to brightly-lit bushes and a Christmas tree, plans grew to include lights for the courthouse, colorful wooden cutouts in the square, red ribbons on lamp posts throughout downtown and the square, an animated train of lights stationed along the railroad tracks, and 83 snowflakes that “Old Man Winter” blows from the Visitor Center through downtown Palestine to the square.
Ellis said they'll be decorating all this week, but everything should be finished by the Christmas Parade this Saturday, which will kick off at 7 p.m. and wrap up at the courthouse. At the conclusion of the parade, Santa himself will be on site to give the order for the official lighting of the tree and square.
Ellis called the project “a great opportunity.”
“It's a great partnership between the city, the county, the (Palestine) Economic Development Corporation, the chamber of commerce and a number of businesses in town,” Ellis said. “Everybody works together to make this a great experience during the holiday season.”
For more information about local events during the holidays, go to www.visitpalestine.com.