The historic town of Fincastle, Virginia is located 20 miles north of Roanoke and was first established in 1770. Residents of Fincastle and Botetourt County welcome those who wish to explore the past and see a glimpse of American history and small town traditions at its finest.
One of Fincastle’s longest standing and most visible traditions relates to the Town’s Christmas light display. Once again this holiday season, the Town of Fincastle will be aglow with strands of red, yellow, blue, green and orange light bulbs and lighted wreaths, snowflakes, and trees. Carrying on this tradition is a labor of love for The Society of Keep Fincastle Lit.
During the 50’s, the Fincastle Volunteer Fire Department was responsible for hanging and maintaining the lights. But in the late 60’s, a group took over the responsibility, raised funds, and quadrupled the number of light strands to 36. In 1969, disaster struck. The building in which the lights were stored burned down and its contents were destroyed. Word spread, and the Town of Lexington, which had just appropriated funds for new lights, donated their old lights and wreaths to Fincastle.
Those lights and wreaths are still in use today. During the mid 80’s, Willie and Brenda Simmons took over responsibility for the lights and formed a new group, The Society to Keep Fincastle Lit, to ensure the holiday tradition continued. Not only has this tradition been supported by the citizens of the Town and Botetourt County, but it continues to receive support from various local businesses that assist with donations of time, money, and equipment.
The volunteers enjoy the camaraderie of fellow citizens working together for a very visible and satisfying goal, but the process of reaching this goal involves many steps. Each year, in early November The Society of Keep Fincastle Lit meets to start working on the lights. A small group of members carry down the bulbs that go in the strands from their January through October home in the top floor of the old jail and test them. The bulbs are divided by color and kept in baskets. The town is decorated with 60 strands of lights and the average strand has 30 bulbs. That makes a grand total of 1,800 working bulbs that are needed for this part of the task!
Bucket trucks are an important factor in Keeping Fincastle Lit. It typically takes a good 8-hour day plus part of another to hang all the lights. These people work and hang lights from The Happy Food Mart to Breckinridge Elementary and to the town limits across Route 220. Strands of lights are attached to poles, public buildings, homes and, in some cases, even trees!
After the start of the New Year, all of the strands of lights and all of the fixtures must be taken down. All of the bulbs are unscrewed from the sockets, separated by color and stored back in the top floor of the old jail until November when it all begins again
Photo and story credits to Historic Fincastle, Inc.