Frisco in the ’30s: Thanksgiving through The Great Depression
Ryan Summerlin November 21, 2012
Frisco’s Thanksgiving history reflects a tumultuous time that rolled like waves through the influence of the mining and ski industries.
During the good times, the food was plentiful and the railroads brought a cornucopia of resources for a community-wide Thanksgiving Feast. During the rise of the ski industry, recreation opportunities in the High Country motivated families from Denver to join loved ones in Summit County.
The era between – when the population dipped as low as 18 people in 1930 – The Great Depression and lack of industry nearly turned Frisco into a ghost town.
Still, the community thrived through its desire for social interaction, making Thanksgiving in the gloomiest days one where the community came together because it had to.
“Back in those days, it was like a curtain had been dropped down over that country,” stated then resident, Virgil Landis in a diary entry provided by the Frisco Historic Park and Museum. “Had it not been for our guns, there would have been times when we would not have eaten. We didn’t pay too much attention to open season in those days in Summit County.”
In 1937 the railroad, that once ran rapid through the Frisco mining district, pulled up the tracks through town and families that remained sustained their lives on ranches, according to Kris Ann Knish, with the Frisco Historic Park and Museum.
With a lack of railroad, mining and with Denver an eight-hour journey from Frisco (this was before Interstate 70), the food that supplemented today’s holiday was scarce and often shared by the 18 mountain-locked residents, according to local historians.
“They all would have had their eye on who had the best turkey in town,” said Karen Anderson, a historian with the historic park and museum. “Nothing would have been store bought – it was all off someone’s land and everyone would have brought produce from their land and gardens or food they had acquired from their scarce travels.”
Anderson speculates though, that Frisco residents in 1930 likely enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving. “They would bring something from their homes because they didn’t have much money and they had to share.”
Local author and historian Mary Ellen Gilliland’s book “Frisco! A Colorful Colorado Community,” features one resident who put it this way:
“Everyone knew what everyone else had – nothing!”
Throughout the year, old newspaper records show frequent gatherings including potlucks, picnics, dances and masquerades.
“They enjoyed their opportunities to really get away from their hardships for a little bit,” Anderson said.
Frisco even lost its telephone service in 1935, a cherry on top of the sundae of bad times, but residents still stuck together.
“Everyone in town was invited. No one was left out,” then resident Sue Giberson told Gilliland.
With no railroad to bring in outside food, and hardly a local economy to sustain ranching among the 18 residents of Frisco in 1930, the Thanksgiving spread surprisingly remained the same, historians conclude.
“During that era they had to be more creative and more resourceful,” Knish said.
Old-time Frisco residents prepared for Thanksgiving dinner for months ahead of time, canning foods and vegetables and preserving hard-to-come-by dishes for the November holiday.
Men would travel, hunting for wild mountain turkey to centerpiece the feast with a bird more gamy than the turkey residents are accustomed to today.
“During The Depression, Frisco reflected a camaraderie,” Anderson said. “They were very social and it seemed they didn’t need an excuse to get together often.”
With the dwindling population during The Great Depression, few pictures exist of the various get-togethers of then Frisco residents. One though, of all the women in town, gathered in a photo for a bridal shower indicated the group of 18 was a connected one.
“I have no doubt they celebrated the holiday with everyone in the town,” Anderson said. “That’s the only way they would have been able to compile a feast for the holiday.”
Published as a Frisco Note Dec. 2, 1899, in the Summit County Journal, the newspaper describes the coming together of the community during the thriving mining era.
“Exercises at the schoolhouses were quite a pleasant surprise for the patrons of the district,” the clip reads. “The children with their bright and happy faces exhibited themselves in a very credible manner. Readings interspersed with beautiful songs at the close of which the Little Red Riding Hood was aptly rendered. The entire program proved the efficient work being done by our teacher Mrs. Gould. The District Patrons need to congratulate themselves of hearing the services of such a superior teacher, Mrs. Gould.”
A few years following the printing of the clip, the schoolhouse in Frisco, with a class size of 26 students needed to expand to accommodate more families joining their miner husbands, according to local historians.