Christmas in 1866 Wasn’t A Fun One in Warrensburg
Christmas in Warrensburg in 1866 should have been a happy one. The Civil War was over. And Christmas, largely ignored before 1850 according to History Today, was becoming an American custom.
The Civil War, urbanization, and industrialization all played a role in American's embracing the holiday. To say America, Missouri, or even Warrensburg were in a happy place in 1866 might be a stretch. I suspect life was difficult. And that's part of what drove many to celebrate Christmas. And Warrensburg probably wasn't an exception to that.
Any happiness Christmas might have brought the townsfolk of Warrensburg went up in a hail of fire late on the night of December 24, 1866. It seems a few boys were shooting off fireworks late that night. And sparks from the fireworks ignited a pile of shavings in a furniture store on Pine Street.
It was windy on the night of December 24, 1866. And according to an un-named newspaper report shared on the Johnson County Historical Society's Facebook page, twenty-three buildings in the main business portion of Warrensburg burned that night.
The article says the damage caused a loss of over $100,000. And the Johnson County Historical Society says another report pegged the loss over $250,000. The problem, at that time, was most of Warrensburg's buildings were wooden. So, fire and wind, easily wiped out a significant part of the City.
There were a few more fires around town between 1866 and 1880 according to the Johnson County Historical Society that pretty much-caused people to switch to bricks when building after 1880.
As for Christmas, it became an official federal holiday in 1870 when President Ulysses S. Grant made it so in an effort to unite the north and south. This is according to Wikipedia. Gift-giving and the commercialism of Christmas also took place during this era according to History Today.
And today, you can see Warrensburg's Civil War-era courthouse set up like was in 1870 when George Grahm Vest gave his Eulogy for a Dog.