It was a warm Christmas in Columbus in 1911. It was not the first time and it certainly would not be the last when the weather 100 years ago was similar to our own weather today.

It was a warm Christmas in Columbus in 1911. It was not the first time and it certainly would not be the last when the weather 100 years ago was similar to our own weather today.

It had been a warm autumn, and as late as Dec. 17, the city had seen a week of rain that kept shoppers inside.

But at least it wasn't snow.

While many people liked a bit of snow for Christmas, Columbus merchants always wished for nice, cold, clear weather. On Dec. 17, they got it and the town turned out to shop.

One hundred years ago, downtown Columbus was the center of things. There were no shopping centers and the "suburbs" were the new subdivisions located near streetcar lines in all four directions from downtown. These new "streetcar suburbs" were in what we today call the University District, the Hilltop, the Near East Side and the South Side of Columbus.

But regardless of where they lived, most people came downtown to meet, to dine and to visit the theaters and shops of the capital city.

Because downtown Columbus was the center of things, most people came to town to buy everything they needed for the holidays. Among those things was a Christmas tree. Originally a custom among the German residents of Columbus in the 1840s, the Christmas tree had an accepted place in most Columbus homes by 1900.

In 1911, the place to buy a Christmas tree was along Fourth Street south of Broad Street. A local newspaper described the area:

"Fourth Street between Broad and Main streets looks like a miniature edition of northern Michigan after a heavy storm had swept away the cedar forests. Thousands of trees are backed up against buildings, fences or choking the lawns of private residences or public buildings.

"One merchant alone imported two carloads of Christmas trees. When he had taken them out of the cars, shaken them and made a count, he discovered that he had 4,000 to sell.

"Most merchants sell trees alone without boxes or standards to keep them upright. Those who affix bases charge handsomely for the extra. With few exceptions, trees costing more than 50 cents will be delivered by dealers."

And then there were the oysters. Because of the warmer than usual weather, Columbus was having a serious problem with oyster availability.

People living in today's Columbus might wonder why anyone would care about oysters. People living in Columbus 100 years ago recognized the obvious importance of oysters. They were a symbol of a world of which Columbus wished to be a part.

When Columbus was founded in 1812, links to the more fashionable culture of the East were few and far between. The founder of frontier Franklinton, Lucas Sullivan, once brought back from a journey east to Philadelphia one small present for one of his sons - a single orange, the first ever seen in central Ohio.

More so even than oranges, oysters became the symbol of affluence through much of the Midwest in the early 1800s. They were hard to obtain. They spoiled easily and had to be consumed soon after their arrival. And they cost a lot of money.

By the 1840s, if one were running for president - as Gen. William Henry Harrison was - an "oyster party" was expected. The Harrison party in Columbus drew several thousand people.

Oysters at Christmastime became something of a tradition among people in central Ohio, who certainly could not easily buy them through most of the year. In many homes at Christmas, one is still offered two kinds of dressing with one's turkey - "plain dressing" or "oyster dressing."

In 1911, it seemed for a moment that people might not have that choice. On Christmas Eve, a local paper reported that oysters were hard to find:

"The market was entirely stripped of canned oysters. There were oysters in bulk in plenty, but not a canned oyster to be found … Dealers say the reason was the weather was warm and everyone wanted oysters in such shape that they would keep until Monday without ice - the great majority of people using only out-of door-refrigerators during the winter … "

In a time when an icebox was just that, the use of an outside wooden box "refrigerator" only made sense if the weather stayed cold. When it didn't, the supply of canned oysters was quickly bought.

If one were not worried about oysters, there were many other things to do at Christmastime in Columbus. The downtown department stores - and there were several - stayed open late. The theaters, especially along Broad Street west from High Street, were also opening early and running until late in the evening.

On Christmas Eve, churches stayed open late and on Christmas Day, most of them were open early. And on Christmas Day, most of the state institutions - for the blind, the deaf, the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill and the incarcerated - had special programs as well. The prisoner-produced vaudeville show at the prison on Spring Street was especially well-received.

In a town where many people had Christmas dinner at home, there were always people who looked for dinner in a local restaurant. At Coulter's Restaurant at High and State streets, this was the menu for Christmas:

Soup Fish Roast Turkey and Oyster Dressing Cranberry Sauce Sweet and Mashed Potatoes Homemade Fruitcake and Plum Pudding Homemade Mince and Pumpkin Pie Fruits Nuts and Candies Sweet Cider

And all of this was available for $1.

Happy Holidays!

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.