Every December, Cleveland residents — along with other visitors from across the United States — travel to watch the city’s official Christmas tree as it is lit.
The tradition has carried for almost 54 years and was started through the generosity of one man — former Postmaster Bob Easterly.
On Monday, a special marker was placed in front of the tree in honor of Easterly. Easterly’s children attended the event: Phyllis Easterly Callaway, Jack Easterly, Bob Easterly Jr. and Jane Easterly. Also on hand were Sharon Marr, president of MainStreet Cleveland and representatives of the Allan Jones Foundation that donated the marker.
Easterly retired as postmaster in 1980. He died in 2011.
“We are proud to honor Bob Easterly for the historic tradition he started in 1966,” said Cleveland businessman and downtown advocate Allan Jones. “He was heavily involved in area civic organizations and local events and loved trees. He thought Cleveland needed its own Christmas tree, and picked the heart of downtown as the perfect location."
Jones added, "One hundred years from now, people will still look forward to the annual Christmas Tree Lighting thanks to our old postmaster, Bob Easterly.”
Jones said the tree was planted as a seedling in 1966 around what is now the Bradley County Courthouse Annex. At the time, it was called the Cleveland Post Office, and was where Easterly worked every day.
“My father saw that there were only a few shrubs around the building, and wanted to do something there to beautify the downtown area,” said Phyllis Easterly Callaway. “He spoke with a U.S. Forest Service employee, Lamar Adams Jr., whose office was in the same building, about adding a tree there that would one day become a living Christmas tree.”
Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, had inaugurated a beautification program, so Easterly was able to use that as the impetus for planting the tree, according to Callaway.
“Dad had put a plan in place several months earlier, so when the first lady’s project became real, he was one of the first to send in a beautification plan,” Callaway said.
The Norway spruce was part of that local project, but did not become the town’s Christmas tree until the Cleveland Downtown Alliance. That organization eventually became MainStreet Cleveland, which is now involved in the lighting of the tree each Christmas.
On Nov. 26, 1990, the Cleveland City Commission named the tree “The Cleveland & Bradley Community Christmas Tree.”
Easterly’s daughters are delighted that this joyful memory of their father continues to enrich the hearts of Clevelanders every holiday season.
“Dad would have been so happy to know that the tree brings lots of joy to many in the community,” Jane Easterly said. “He loved Cleveland, he loved downtown and he loved planting things like trees.”
The family members said they remember Easterly talking about how stark the outside of the annex was, so the beautification project was something that he was dedicated to for many years.
“To see how that tree has grown, and to go downtown and see it every time you drive by on Broad Street is a lasting tribute to our father,” Callaway said. “We thank the Allan Jones Foundation for this special marker to honor a great man and a historic tree.”