History of Southport Christmastland
Christmasland in Southport had its beginning on Hazel Street when Fran Jellif, a Sunday School teacher, and his wife, Dottie, made the first religious display in their small front yard. Each year a new display was added and it soon it became a tradition for the many families in Southport to visit this wonderful display. When the Jelilifs a built a new home, they gave the displays to Chemung County which in tum gave them to the Southport Business Association in 1985.
Soon, storing-and maintaining the displays became a problem. Christmasland was ready to be dissolved when a few business people came together and named Sheldon Robinson and Harold Watts as cochairmen to revitalize it.
Each of the displays is a story in and of itself; the effort and fun that went in to each display is truly the real meaning of Christmas.
The large green trailer was donated by Harold Watts and then gutted and repainted by Bob Hamer, Dr. Richard Cook, Art Root, and others, in Steve Stickler’s garage. Mr. Ostrander set up the train every year until George Farmer took over in 1998. The revolving globe was part of the original display; the children of the world were added by the Elmira Reformatory. The bear room was added when the trailer was redecorated. A storage room and PA system are also housed in the trailer.
When it came time for the Santa and reindeer to be redone, the Elmira Reformatory rebuilt them and Sheldon Robinson painted the display. Norm Ferris added the motor for the waving hand and red nose on Rudolph. Steve Stickler put the display on wheels. The snowmen along the trail were redone by the Elmira Reformatory.
The Mark Twain study was donated by Harold Watts. The electrical box is housed inside the chimney. Sheldon Robinson added a motor that enable Mark Twain’s rocker to move.
The original church with the organ girl was falling apart, and BJ Holleran of the Southport Kiwanis organized the effort to rebuild the church in 2000. Financial help from the Southport Business Association and the Southport Kiwanis allowed the church to be rebuilt. Olthof Funeral Home sets up the display.
Sheldon Robinson, Norm Ferris, and Jim Biggs constructed the motorized teeter totter with doll children on it.
The manger was rebuilt by the Elmira Reformatory. It is set up each year by Hal and Barb Secrist.
The small green trailer is a storage unit that was painted and redone by Bob Hamer and Steve Stickler. The Jesus sign was part of the old display.
Each year, the great responsibility of selecting the nicest and largest tree in Southport to transport to the Christmasland site is given to Sheldon Robinson and Rip Doud. Usually, the tree is cut, transported, and set up by the Dalrymple Company in early November. George Poley does the wiring for the tree as well as the major outlets for the rest of the displays.
The Ferris Wheel was rebuilt by Norm Ferris in 1999.
The carousel was built by Harold Watts, Norm Ferris, and Sheldon Robinson. Winnie Watts painted the horses and decorated the carousel.
The Gingerbread House was built by Harold Watts and Frank White. Winnie Watts decorated it with dolls.
Mr. and Mrs. Santa Clause’s Cookies Display was built and decorated by the Southport Kiwanis.
The huge, colorful displays of Santa, deer, elves, snowmen, wooden soldiers, and the welcome sign were built and painted by Art and Shirley Rowel of Painted Post and then donated to Christmas Land.
The white reindeer and the sleigh were part of a Boy Scouts of Scolfield project. The Southport Historical Society provided the packages inside the sleigh.
The soldiers by the trellis in the front were built and painted by Tony Popkin.
The lighted trees along the roadside are done by Art Root and Dr. Cook each year.
The Christmas trees along the path are donated by Steve Gerguly. Dave Wagner, Rip Doud, Steve Stickler, Ron Stanton, and Nick Nickerson put up the small trees, the fencing, and they also bring in the displays on wheels.
A Night of Holiday Magic and the lighting of the tree and Christmasland are held on the first Sunday of December at 4:30 PM. A musical program is provided by the Southside Chorus and the popcorn truck is present. Santa arrives later in the evening to give books and candy to the children. This event is sponsored by the Southport Business Association, Southport Kiwanis, Southport Historical Society, SHS Booster Club, and the Southport Firehouse. Christmasland is on display until the first of January.
A large storage barn was constructed on Institutional Road to store the Christmasland displays.