A century ago, the harvesting of live greens for Christmas was a lucrative business and one which brought numerous outside entrepreneurs to Lakeville in search of evergreens, holly and laurel. Greens were taken from the woods of Lakeville in large quantities, frequently by the wagon load, and brought to Boston where they were processed for sale. The automobile increased access to rural Lakeville and Middleborough so much so that ultimately greens were removed in such quantities as to raise concerns about over-stripping the woods, as well as the taking of greens from private property, the latter issue prompting the attention of local police by 1930.
“The evergreen harvest here has begun," noted one account from Lakeville dated December, 1904, "and many representatives of decorating houses are now cleaning the holly, evergreen, princess pine and laurel from the woods. Mountain laurel, which is found in quantities in this town, and in Acushnet and Freetown, is shipped to Boston, where it is made into wreaths and streamers for decorating purposes. There the streamers sell for about 6 cents per yard, allowing a good margin for the makers. Some have arrived with tents, and will remain for several weeks, gathering the material. The shipment of trees is light, as there are but few good cedar trees suitable for Christmas, and these are carefully guarded.”
A heavy snowstorm on the evening of December 17 which dumped a foot of snow in the region brought the 1904 harvest to a halt. “The evergreen harvest here has been stopped by the heavy snows, and no more will be gathered before Christmas unless a big thaw comes. For the past few weeks the woods have been well scoured in search of green stuff, and a great quantity of it has been gathered and shipped to the Boston market. A quantity of holly and mountain-laurel has been cut and shipped from here.”
Each year larger and larger quantities of greens were removed from Lakeville, leading to concerns of over-stripping the woods. “The collection of greenery, holly and laurel for Christmas is underway here. As has been the custom with collectors of this holiday decoration they have invaded Lakeville, and are carrying off the stuff in team loads,” recorded the Middleboro Gazette in December, 1908. One new innovation which contributed to this process was the automobile. Where city residents had previously been dependent upon intermediaries to acquire their Christmas greens, the automobile permitted city dwellers to enjoy a day-trip to the country where they would pick pines, holly and other specimens with which to decorate their homes. “The greenery business in the section for Christmas was the heaviest [in 1912] for years. There were large numbers engaged in the pursuit, and one man alone marketed 400 wreaths. The advent of the automobile, cruising through the country, caused a large amount of greenery, especially holly, to be carried away by the drivers to their homes.”
The annual search for Christmas greens in Lakeville and surrounding communities continued throughout the first decades of the twentieth century and appears to have contributed to the decline of a number of species locally, most notably American holly (Ilex opaca) which was formerly abundant in local woods. In 1929, the scarcity of holly inlocal woods was lamented and attributed at the time to a "severe and protracted drought" in the summer and fall of that year. What holly could be found was quickly taken by gatherers of Christmas green, irreparably damaging trees and furthering the ecological decline of the plant locally.
By 1930, many local property owners had had enough, and began reporting the removal of greens to the local police as indicated by the following news report from December, 1930:
There have been several complaints received by the police from land owners in various parts of the town that their woods are being entered and stripped of holly and other evergreens without authority and in some cases holly trees have been stripped to such an extent that they will die. One man reports that automobiles have come to his place Sundays and leave full of small spruce or pine branches while others come and get small cedar trees. Arthur Winslow and Edwin C. Bennett of Marion road are among those who have reported to the police. Chief Sisson is checking up on this trespassing and prosecutions are likely to follow.
Middleboro Gazette editor and owner Lorenzo Wood commented upon the situation in late December. Clearly unapproving of the unauthorized removal, Wood was at a loss to provide a solution, as the geographic expanse of Middleborough (as well as Lakeville) did not easily lend themselves to prevantative patrols by local law enforcement.