Christmas in Murrieta

#3 From Let Me Tell You a Story by John Hunneman


Let's set our time machine for Christmas Eve, 1904, and, using a sprinkle of imagination and a dash of history, imagine how the residents of the tiny farming community of Murrieta -- or Murrietta, as the post office was officially and mistakenly identified -- spent the day.

Postmaster Oliver Miller waved a friendly greeting to the crew of the morning train from San Bernardino as it pulled into the Murrieta Depot carrying the last of the holiday mail and a few passengers on their way to Fritz Guenther's Mineral Hot Springs.

It had been 13 winters since rain washed out the railroad tracks that connected Murrieta with Fallbrook and proceeded south to San Diego. Railroad officials had decided not to rebuild the trestles through Temecula Canyon, and Temecula was now the southern terminus of the San Bernardino line.

The post office was located inside the train depot, and Miller, assisted by his two daughters, Evelyn and Sylvia, sorted the parcels and prepared for a busy afternoon. There was no home delivery of mail, and someone from almost every family in town would be coming to the depot that afternoon to pick up cards and packages from near and far.

The Rev. George Cocking of the Methodist Church on Washington Avenue spent the day preparing his sermon for the Christmas morning service. The Rev. Cocking had replaced the Rev. Jeffers over the summer, and this was his first Christmas in Murrieta. He was nervous and wanted to make a good impression.

Children were on a holiday break from the town's school, which was located on B Street and had been enlarged over the summer to accommodate students from several new families. Teacher Bessie Boyd had rehearsed a holiday musical recital with her students since before Thanksgiving, and Historical Hall built the year before would be filled with townsfolk on Christmas Eve for the presentation.

At the Fountain House, Mr. and Mrs. Sykes -- who owned the hotel -- and their nine daughters tended to the guests. The hotel was full, and roast beef from the Santa Rosa Meat Market was on the evening menu in the dining room.

Christmas was on Sunday, a day when the hotel always served an all-you-could eat chicken dinner for 35 cents. A big crowd was expected, and several of the Sykes' girls spent the afternoon sealing the fate of a dozen birds they had raised.

The winter of 1904 was the wettest in many years, and families who lived in the hills above the town excitedly told of several inches of snow that had fallen in their orchards.

Walking home from the children's music recital, the Rev. Cocking, who had never seen snow, gazed skyward as a few flakes danced in the night air. He sighed and smiled.

At that moment, he knew his Christmas morning sermon of faith, hope, and fellowship would be well-received.