History of the Town of Santa Claus, Indiana
The Naming of the Town
In the late 1840s, a group of settlers—mostly of German descent—formed a small community in Spencer County in Southern Indiana. Although they no doubt had to deal with the day-to-day struggles of pioneer life, the weightiest problem that plagued them was the lack of a name for their town. In fact, the community became known as the "nameless town." The naming of the town of Santa Claus is such a charming story that it was featured on Christmas Eve, 1992, on renowned radio news commentator Paul Harvey’s "The Rest of the Story" program. Here is the story Mr. Harvey told to millions of listeners world-wide:
And now…THE REST OF THE STORY:
Never in history did a town have so much trouble naming itself than the town of…well, that, see, that was the problem. The town didn’t have a name--not even an unofficial one. There were many suggestions, but every time somebody made a suggestion, it was discovered that some other town already had that name.
How did the folks find their way to the "nameless town"? Well, people who lived on the gently rolling hillscape of southern Indiana would simply point and say, "Over yonder is the ‘nameless town.’" So that’s exactly what they came to call it until one Friday night, late in 1852, on Christmas Eve. And this is The Rest of the Story…
The Christmas Eve service had just concluded in the little log church, and everybody was there. [It was] as good a time as any to hold a final town meeting of the year, one citizen decided. As had often been the case through the years of town meetings since the community’s founding, there was only one order of business that night: a name for the "nameless town."
All were gathered around the pot-bellied, wood-burning stove. The circuit riding preacher, who had just preached the service, was there, too. He was a popular fellow—the Reverend Christian Wyttenbach. So esteemed was this minister that somebody suggested naming the town Wyttenbach, Indiana. But I think it was the reverend himself who respectfully declined; after all he didn’t even live there.
The frustrating discussion continued. Now when I mention "everyone there," I mean everybody; children--although quiet and not participating--children were included. But then, with a chilly December gust, the door of the church blew open. It was the adults who fell silent and it was the youngsters who suddenly came to life. For beyond the picture-framed doorway was a magical scene of snowflakes winking on black velvet, and the magical sound of sleigh bells.
But whose sleigh might it be? All were present, remember--and nobody else for miles and miles around except…that’s right. And as the children ran to the doorway they excitedly shouted the name that every grownup was thinking, "Santa Claus!" they cried. "It’s Santa Claus!"
Thus one Christmas Eve, 140 years ago tonight, because of some bells that nobody’s ever been able to trace, the little nameless town received its name: Santa Claus, Indiana; and it is so named to this day. The population no longer numbers in the dozens--there are 1,200 residents now. And in a sense you might say that there are 12-hundred-and-one. For each and every Christmas season, hundreds of thousands of letters arrive in the town’s post office. Letters come from all over the world with but a single name inscribed upon them. The inscriptions are often scrawled in crayon, but the letters are sent in utmost sincerity. Of course, you know what the name is on all those envelopes, and you know why those letters arrive where they do ’cause, well, because you know The Rest of the Story.
Background of the Town & the Beginning of Santa Claus Land
In the 1920s, Jim Martin was postmaster of the Santa Claus Post Office. He noticed that a number of letters, addressed to "Santa Claus," were being sent to his post office. After a while, he decided to answer these letters, so as not to disappoint the children. In the early 1930s, Jim Yellig from the neighboring town of Mariah Hill volunteered to help answer the children’s letters—which were arriving in greater numbers each year. Yellig solicited the help of the Santa Claus American Legion to join in the project. Fund-raisers were held to secure money to pay for the letterhead, envelopes and postage. The practice of answering children’s letters to Santa continues to this day.
In the mid 1930s, attorney Milton Harris worked out a deal with the Curtiss Candy Company and built a "castle" for selling candy to visitors to the town of Santa Claus. He also built a factory where Santa Claus sleighs pulled by reindeer were built.
A few other toy companies built small plants where they built and displayed toys.
Less than a mile away, businessman Carl A. Barrett collected donations and opened a park with a 22-foot granite statue of Santa Claus and a log cabin; the park was dedicated in 1935. No other Christmas attractions were developed until after World War Two.
Meanwhile, Evansville industrialist Louis J. Koch was dismayed that there was not a greater memorial to Santa Claus in the town named after him. The father of nine children, Koch loved holidays and wanted children who visited the town to be able to see that this was truly Santa’s home. He began making plans to build a memorial to Santa Claus.
On August 3, 1946, Koch opened Santa Claus Land. This was the first theme park ever built (Walt Disney constructed Disneyland nine years later). Santa Claus Land included the Mother Goose Land Train, with a 1/4-scale locomotive for rides through Mother Goose Land, a toy factory with elves at work, a place to visit Santa Claus, and a food and souvenir shop. One of Koch’s sons, Bill, returned from the war and became interested in working with his father in developing Santa Claus Land and the Town of Santa Claus.
In 1984, Bill Koch and his family decided to expand Santa Claus Land to include two additional holidays: Halloween and the Fourth of July. The expanded theme park was renamed Holiday World. In 1993, Holiday World added a water park, called Splashin’ Safari. The Koch family continues to own and operate the theme parks and adjacent campground, Lake Rudolph Campground & R.V. Resort.
Bill Koch Conceives Idea of Developing a Rural Community
In addition to developing Santa Claus Land, Bill Koch kept busy developing the town of Santa Claus. In the late 1950s, he was involved in trying to attract new industry to Indiana. After much study, he concluded that in order to attract new business, an area has to offer an attractive environment in which the employees of the prospective companies will live. He drafted a plan for a "Rural Community" which would offer all the positive aspects of rural life (friendly neighbors, plenty of land, low noise level, clean air and water, natural wildlife) and provide plenty of outdoor recreation, entertainment, shopping facilities, and easy access to highways and interstates.
Christmas Lake Village
In developing Christmas Lake Village, Bill Koch began by looking at recreational opportunities in the area. He built three lakes: Christmas Lake, Lake Holly and Lake Noel, for swimming, boating, and fishing. He began plans for a championship golf course and club. He developed the residential community around the lakes with 2,200 home sites. Christmas Lake Village encompasses approximately 2,500 acres; it is a private community, with a security guard monitoring incoming and outgoing visitors around the clock. The Village includes tennis courts, ball field, Recreation Center, and Christmas Lake Golf Course.
The Koch family continues to develop a second residential community in the northern part of town. The 400-acre Holiday Village is similar to Christmas Lake Village, however, it does not have a security gate and its roads are public. Holiday Village has 600 home sites, a Recreation Center, a pool, and miniature golf.
This shopping center is the downtown area of Santa Claus. Koch Development Corporation in cooperation with Holiday Foods Inc. purchased the former Holly Plaza in November 1997. In 1999, the name was changed to Kringle Place and a major renovation transformed the late 60's-early 70's architecture into what now looks like a German/Bavarian village befitting of the town's heritage. Citizens and visitors of the area can shop at up to 12 businesses located in Kringle Place. Kringle Place is now co-owned by HO HO HOldings, LLC, a new company created in May 2002 by Philip Koch and Kristi George, Bill Koch's youngest son and oldest daughter.
Continued Growth of Santa Claus
The Town of Santa Claus is, by percentage, the fastest growing community in the state of Indiana. The town was incorporated in 1967, with a population of just 37. The population of the town now numbers over 2,300.