A Very Quick History of Santa Claus, Indiana

OK, this is not about ghosts, but it is about the Christmas Spirit in Indiana.

Santa Claus, Indiana is a town located in the southwestern part of Indiana. Around 2,500 people live in the town (not including the elves, I’m sure) and it hosts Christmas-related attractions throughout the year. 

Starting as a modest farming settlement of German immigrants, the town was eventually established in 1854 with the (not so) original name of Sante Fe. A few years later, the town was large enough to warrant a post office and they submitted an application to the Post Office Department. They rejected it, because “Santa Fe” was already taken. In order to obtain a post office, the town held several meetings and settled on a new name: Santa Claus. The post office was established in 1856. 

That, of course, is one version of the story. According to legend, townsfolk were gathered around a fire in a log church on Christmas Eve. While the children played, the adults discussed the issue of choosing a new town name. All of a sudden, the church doors flew up and the sound of distant sleigh bells were heard by all. The excited children ran to the door and shouted “Santa Claus! Santa Claus!” It was a sign and the new name was chosen (santaclausind.org). 

The post office is by far the most popular location in town as it receives many letters for Santa Claus from children during Christmastime. About 200 volunteers answer about 20,000 letters a year (Indianapolis Star). This tradition began in 1914 when postmaster James Martin started responding to letters. In 1929, Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! took notice and featured the town in a cartoon strip. 

During my newspaper research, I found some discussion during January of 1930 regarding the post office. Due to an influx of letters to Santa Claus, Indiana, the Post Office Department thought it might be best to change the town name. I came across many articles and letters pleading for the name to stay the same. Luckily, Santa Claus, Indiana is still alive and well. 

Source: The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, 23 Jan 1932, p. 8.

The attention from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! brought many to the town, but they were disappointed to see only a post office. Postmaster James Martin teamed up with Vincennes attorney Milton Harris to develop the concept for a theme park named “Santa Claus Town.” The first attraction in this town was Santa’s Candy Castle, which was dedicated on December 22, 1935. The building was a red brick castle sponsored by the creator of Babe Ruth and Butterfinger, The Curtiss Candy Company. Santa’s Workshop and Toy Village were later added with major sponsorships included. 

During World War II, the focus in manufacturing switched to the production of war goods. Santa Claus Town would lose sponsors and Harris died in 1950 before he was able to bring Santa Claus Town to its original jolly glory. Other owners attempted to bring back the Christmas spirit, but the park finally closed in the 1970s. Luckily, new owners purchased Santa’s Candy Castle and reopened it in 2006. It one again a successful venture and was even featured on the Travel Channel.

This history of Santa Claus Town was provided by the Santa’s Candy Castle website (which is cute by the way) and is very much true, but there is one other possible reason the park had issues.

Days after the dedication of Santa Claus Town, a 25-foot Saint Nick—purportedly made of granite—went up on an adjacent hill. Chicago businessman Carl Barrett had purchased land in the hopes of creating his own Santa Claus “Park”, and annulling Harris’ rights to the property he’d leased. A crack in the “granite” showed the statue to be concrete; and a struggle for market share in the town’s holiday business followed suit. (Indiana Public Media

So Harris and Barrett entered a legal battle, which made its way to the Indiana Supreme Court. The headline “Too Many Santa Clauses” appeared in publications such as Business Week and Newsweek. As you can imagine, this cost both men money and time. Both Santa parks eventually fell into decline. 

In 1946, a new park named Santa Claus Land opened and is still open today, but under the name Holiday World & Splashin Sarfari.  The park was originally Christmas themed but added other sections over time devoted to the other holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. 

Hope you enjoyed this short break from my usual spooky content. Merry Christmas! 👻🧑‍🎄

Sources 

Hays, Holly V. “From heartwarming to heartbreaking, these Christmas letters end up in Santa Claus, Indiana.” Indianapolis Star, 17 Dec 2019.  

“Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari.” Wikipedia. 

“The History Of Santa’s Candy Castle.” Santa’s Candy Castle.  

“The Story of Santa Claus, Indiana.” Santa Claus, Indiana website. 

“Too Many Santas.” Moment of Indiana History from Indiana Public Media. “Santa Claus, Indiana.” Wikipedia.

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