Candlelight church services, luminaries along sidewalks, model train displays, choirs, carolers and more recently, Christmas Tree Lane at the firehall all have a place in celebrating the holiday in and about the community. Sadly, however, the most memorable Cochranton tradition, the H. L. Moore Co. Christmas display, has been missing since the early 1960s. That is about to change on November 16.
According to an article written in the Heritage Times (Vol. 4, No. 4, 1993), outside Christmas lights at the H. L. Moore Co. were being noticed as far back as 1949. Figures of Santa and his reindeer were flying across the company roof, red bells hung over the door, trees were lit with red, white and blue lights, painted candles and lighted figures crowded the company’s front lawn. The company art department spent copious hours designing and painting the display. Early on, Elmer Barnes, art director, worked on display plans, Chuck Strayer supervised the installation of lights and figures while Ed Hovis helped on the grounds with the layout for several days prior to the holidays. As word spread, the exhibit drew spectators from miles around often slowing traffic to a crawl along S. Franklin St. Nothing said Christmas in Cochranton like H. L. Moore’s incredible display.
Gayle Hillkirk, a former plant manager for the company, remembers the work it took to create the display. He fondly remembers how Moore loved his hometown and how proud he was of his art department and their gift to the community. He also remembered when Moore said they would no longer be displayed. Some vandalism had occurred — lights were stolen and figures damaged and that was the end. At Moore’s directive, the display was packed away and stored at the plant for 20 some years. Then, early in the 1980s, the decorations were given away during some spring cleaning of the premises. Squirreled away in the garage of a local resident, the decorations were largely forgotten.
When the family of Gene Peterson discovered the decorations, they contacted Mark Roche, an artist and prominent member of the Cochranton Area Redevelopment Effort (CARE), about resurrecting the display. Roche then reached out to Hillkirk who, in turn, contacted numerous individuals to help with the idea. Roche has refurbished the painted figures, CARE has agreed to purchase the needed lights and electrical set-up, the Cochranton Presbyterian Church has graciously offered their grassy lot next to the public library on the corner of Smith and Pine for the display and several people have volunteered to help with the set-up. The Cochranton Borough Office plans to initiate a community-wide decorating contest and the Friends of the Library will decorate the library in time for the light-up ceremony. The discovery of the H. L. Moore Co. decorations has made Christmas in Cochranton a testimony to good old fashion hometown pride and community spirit.
Please join us for the official lighting ceremony to take place on site, Friday, November 16, at 6:30. Hillkirk, 95, will be “throwing the switch” to welcome the decorations home. The display is expected to be lit every evening from 6-9 throughout December. The late H. L. Moore would be so honored.