Trenton’s Christmas Past (2022)

Pictures representing Trenton’s Christmas Past compiled from the Trenton Historical Society’s past Trenton Calendars.

Photo from the Trentoniana Collection,
Trenton Free Public Library

The intersection of State and Broad has always been the center of town.  As a commercial and transportation hub it was thronged with Trentonians shopping, working or simply changing trolleys or buses to move about the city.  The snowstorm of December 11-12, 1960 brought that bustling activity to a halt, as can be seen in this image.

Decked out for the holidays, North Broad Street appears in this 1960’s photograph with the display windows of S.P. Dunham & Co.’s department store framing the right side of the view. The grocery and dry goods store which grew to become the S. P. Dunham & Co. was founded in 1854 by Henderson G. Scudder.  Scudder’s son, John H. partnered with Sering P. Dunham of Somerville to reorganize the mercantile concern as Scudder and Dunham, purveyors of dry and fancy goods.  In 1892, John Scudder retired and the store became S.P. Dunham & Co.  In 1867, while still under the management of Henderson G. Scudder, a four-story brick building was constructed at 13 North Broad Street to house the operation.  A series of expansions followed and ultimately the department store occupied all of the buildings between North Broad Street and Warren Street. Dunham’s attempted to cope with the flight of shoppers from the city by opening satellite stores in nearby suburban Hamilton, Lawrenceville, and Morrisville.

Photo from the Trentoniana Collection,
Trenton Free Public Library

Collection of Monty Berrien

Bradshaw family Christmas card

For many years, Trenton Old Stock Beer was the flagship product of the Peoples Brewing Company. Peoples Brewing was founded in 1899 by the merger of several Trenton brewing interests most notably the Trenton Brewing Company owned by the Kuser Family. Peoples Brewing eked its way through the dark years of Prohibition by manufacturing “near beers.” Upon the repeal of the 21st Amendment, the company’s massive brick brewery on the corner of Lalor Street and Lamberton Street on the Delaware River was upgraded to produce up to 100,000 bottles of beer a day. Trenton Old Stock continued to be manufactured even after the Peoples Brewing Company was acquired by the Metropolis Brewing Company in 1949. The brew remained a favorite of New Jersey’s beer drinking public into the 1960’s.

XXH3331 R.C. Maxwell Company Records, 1904-1990’s and undated, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
Duke University

Photo from

This aerial photograph shows Trenton in the grip of winter.  Taken in February of 2006, the snowy image depicts a city riverfront dominated by highways, government office buildings and sprawling parking lots.  This landscape is modern government replaced densely packed urban neighborhoods in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as urban clearance efforts erased nearly all of Trenton’s Bloomsbury district which was once home to generations of working class Trentonians who lived in small row houses fronting on no longer existing streets between the Assunpink Creek and Bridge Street in South Trenton.

On Sunday ,December 11, of 1960 a record-breaking blizzard dumped sixteen inches of snow on Trenton, crippling the city and causing drivers to abandon their snow blocked vehicles throughout the streets of Trenton. Among the stranded vehicles was an ambulance carrying expectant mother, Mrs. Lou Heckler. Unable to reach the hospital, Mrs. Heckler was taken to the State House where she delivered a baby girl named Stacy Lee Heckler…Stacy after Mahlon Stacy, Trenton’s founder and Lee after Albert Lee Warren, the 40-year-old State House maintenance man who was “extremely helpful” during the delivery of the baby.

Photo from the Collection of James Carlucci

Taken circa 1970, this photograph shows Santa Claus in the Trenton Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sponsored during the 1960’s by the Lit Brothers Department Store, the parade would terminate at a reviewing stand in front of the Lit Brothers’ Broad Street store. Santa would end the parade by climbing up the ladder of a Trenton fire truck into a window of the department store.  After Lit Brothers closed in 1968, the City took over the parade. Instead of ending at Broad and Front Streets, the new route extended to City Hall where Santa would climb the ladder and vault onto the second story balcony outside the Mayor’s Office. This photograph was taken on East State Street just as the float was reaching the reviewing stand in front of City Hall. Santa was played by James Carlucci Sr. from the early 1960’s into the 1970’s.

Opened in 1910, the large classical revival edifice was designed by Philadelphia architect Spencer Roberts who also drew up the plans for Trenton’s Free Public Library. The construction contract for the building required all work “except marble cutting” to be done by Trenton men. A dispute even broke out when the architect reportedly refused to use Trenton brick in the construction of the building because of its poor quality and instead proposed to utilize brick manufactured in Bordentown. Constructed at a cost of $447,000, the building is perhaps best known for the large mural by “Ashcan School” artist Everett Shinn. The mural hangs in the Council Chambers and depicts the wire rope and ceramics industries.

Photo from the Trentoniana Collection,
Trenton Free Public Library

This photograph taken in the 1920’s shows a group of children gathered in front of the Trenton Savings Fund Society’s building at 125 East State Street. Taken around Christmas time, it is likely that the photo was taken to commemorate a visit to the bank by a school group to promote savings. The Trenton Savings Fund Society was incorporated in 1844 and operated initially out of an office in the old Trenton City Hall. The building shown here was designed by New York architects Moweray and Affinger in the Beaux Arts style, opened in 1921.  The bank building is one of Trenton’s most impressive buildings.

Taken at the intersection of State and Broad Streets on a winter’s night between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 1950, this view shows the southeast corner of the intersection and the eastern side of Broad Street between State Street and Front Street. J.B. Wilson Co., the store occupying the first floor of the corner building, opened its doors to customers on April 13, 1918, to sell women’s apparel to city shoppers.  A few days after this photograph was taken, on January 2, 1951, the store advertised a clearance sale of corduroys and “quilted robes, negligees and lounging pajamas.” The store closed its doors in 1958.

XXX5496  R.C. Maxwell Company Records, 1904-1990’s and undated, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
Duke University

Photo from the New Jersey State Archives;
Department of State

This 1960’s image shows the interior of the rotunda of the New Jersey State House decorated for the winter holidays. The sign beneath the Christmas Tree reads “New Jersey Grown Christmas Tree, From the 1925 Douglas Fir Plantation, Washington Crossing State Park, Furnished by the State Conservation Department.” The rotunda, topped by the golden dome of the State House, was constructed in 1889 in accordance with the plans of architect Lewis Broome. It was built to replace a similar but smaller structure that was destroyed in the major State House fire on March 21, 1885.

Taken at 11:50 am on December 5, 1936, this photograph shows the west side of Broad Street north of its intersection with State Street. Holiday garland has already been strung decorating Trenton’s downtown streets.  Just visible in this image, sandwiched between the Days Credit Clothing Shop and the S. P. Dunham Department Store is a small store named the Eton Boys’ Shop, Inc. This shop, which was owned by Max Levin, catered to the more affluent of Trenton’s male adolescents and the students of nearby boarding schools. Max Levin was the brother of Henry Levin, another Trentonian, who moved to the west coast in the early 1940’s and became a prominent Hollywood director. Henry Levin oversaw the making of over fifty movies starring such luminaries as Betty Grable, Pat Boone, Shirley Jones, Glenn Ford, Jack Palance, Dean Martin, James Mason, Charlton Heston, and Barbara Stanwyck.  Max’s son, Dan, also became a successful director but, unlike his uncle, he focused on television, not film.

XXX3448 R.C. Maxwell Company Records, 1904-1990’s and undated, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
Duke University

Leigh Visual Imaging

Taken at 6:43 pm on a December evening in 1950, this photograph shows a pageant of electric banner signs that once called out to holiday shoppers on Broad Street. That year Mayor Connolly touched off Trenton’s Christmas season on December 8 by throwing a switch at State and Broad Streets to turn on the midtown Christmas street lighting. The light stringing was a project of the Trenton Junior Chamber of Commerce. Merchants had contributed about $8,000 on a store frontage basis and the City Commission gave an $800 donation. Lighting extended on State Street from City Hall to Willow Street and on Broad Street from Perry to Market Streets. The State House and Court House provided outside displays in keeping with the city’s decorations.  A Nativity Scene was placed on City Hall Plaza organized by the students and faculty of the Trenton Industrial Arts School.

This photograph shows one of Trenton’s best known shopping institutions, Swern’s Department Store, in December of 1938 at 115 South Broad Street. The commercial enterprise that would later become known as Swern’s was founded in 1885 by S.E. Kaufman as a “Housekeepers’ Store” operating on South Greene (Broad) Street.  

In  March of 1920, Kaufman’s was purchased by Arthur Hoenig, Samuel Swern, Hyman Green, and Benjamin and Harry Goodstein. In December of 1921, immediately after Christmas, the store’s name changed to Hoenig, Swern & Co and, in January of 1929, the name was again changed to Swern & Co.

In 1893, along with his parents, Samuel Swern had immigrated to Trenton from Poland at the age of 3 and, while a teenager, became the operator of a number of small mercantile concerns including a candy store, grocery store and, later, a coal supply business. Following the conclusion of his service in World War I, he purchased the Kaufman store in partnership with four relatives.  

In 1944, Swern’s traded stores with the Goldberg Department Store and moved to the corner of Broad and Front Streets.  Samuel Swern sold this store to the Lit Brothers Department Store of Philadelphia in 1949 but remained on as manager until 1954.

Lit Brothers ultimately moved the store to Morrisville. The shuttered Trenton location was demolished in 1969.  The original location of Swern’s on Broad at Lafayette Street, later occupied by Goldberg’s, was demolished in 1955.  

Leigh Visual Imaging