SAN ANGELO, Texas (Concho Valley Homepage) — The ideas that first breathed life into Christmas at Old Fort Concho were first discussed in 1981, an event that today brings Christmas cheer and looks into Christmases of old.
Fort Concho staff, board and volunteers were looking for a way to bring attention, guests, and revenue to the historical landmark and by December 1982, the fort would hold the very first Christmas at Old Fort Concho.
While several people contributed to this event, the individual taking the reins was, then staff member and later Fort board member, Tilly Chandler, who has since passed away in 2022.
The first event would use just the Officers Row on the south side of the fort, with only a few hundred volunteers and 5000 visitors. Unexpected for a first-year event, the fort made a surprising amount of profit. Typically, it would take a few years to build revenue and clear expenses.
Over the years Christmas at Old Fort Concho has adapted to changing times and fresh developments on the site and with this came new featured events, but it also meant that some were left behind. In the early years, an outdoor pageant was held, which was a big hit at the time but by 1990 it came to an end. This event was repurposed into the Winter Rendezvous Weekend and then came the gingerbread and cookie contests, which are now major attractions for the event.
Despite the event’s long history, Fort Concho says the goals have remained the same: attracting folks to the fort and contributing to the city’s tourism economy, raising money for the historic site, promoting the history and significance of the site and serving the community. It has even attracted international visits, such as the Polish Ambassador in the 80s and the former Irish Ambassador in 2008.
The event today occupies the entire 40-acre site and all 24 buildings. It involves up to 1000 volunteers and attracts between 15,000 and 17,000 visitors, depending on the weather. Around 35 percent to 30 percent of visitors travel from over 50 miles away.
This event has withstood the test of time as many other area festivals have risen and fallen. Fort Concho Site Manager, Robert Bluthardt who has been with the fort since 1982, contributes this success to its broad and popular base of history, shopping, food, entertainment and children’s events offering something for everyone. He also contributes its continued growth to the many groups and individuals who contribute their time and talents to the event, some of whom have done so for more than 30 years.
Christmas at Old Fort Concho has developed into an identifier for the historical landmark, their unique “brand.” According to Bluthardt, it is the one and only thing some may know about the site.
“Often when far away from San Angelo and I identify myself as the site manager of Fort Concho, the immediate reaction is, ‘Oh, I love your Christmas event.'” said Bluthardt.