Blast from the Past: Santa Heim, Merryland: Savage’s Year-Round Christmas Village

The most colorful owner of the Historic Savage Mill was Harry Harrison Heim, born in Baltimore in 1883.  Sometime before World War I he left Baltimore for the west coast and settled in San Diego, California.  He worked in retail until the Great Depression closed his dress shop.  In 1932 he returned to Baltimore and started a decorating business. Through this business he began the manufacture of Christmas ornaments and named his company Santa Novelties.  He moved his business from the manufacture of inexpensive soft ornaments and by 1938 was making ones of blown glass.  The ornaments were of such quality that in 1944 he produced 12 million ornaments, 90% of them being purchased by the F.W. Woolworth Company.  As a result, Santa Novelties’ sales grew from $61,000 in 1943 to $1,659,000 in 1948.  To meet his need for more manufacturing space Mr. Heim bought the defunct Savage Cotton Mill, which included about 500 acres of land and 175 houses within the town of Savage.  The purchase price paid by Mr. Heim was $450,000 or, $5,520,410.31 in 2021 dollars.  With his purchase of the Savage Mill, and much of the surrounding town, he set about bringing his dream of creating the biggest and best Christmas attraction in the United States.    

Mr. Heim began calling himself “Santa Hiem” and set to work converting the Mill and town into an 1800’s Christmas village.  Every tree was strung with colored lights as well as the life-sized nursery rhyme scenes he erected around town.  Reindeer were imported, stabled, and displayed behind the Carroll Baldwin Hall.  The New Weave building was used to house a one ring circus complete with high wire acts and 2 elephants, and a tent outside displayed life-sized animated animals.   A turreted castle was bult at the intersection of Us Rt #1 and Gorman Rd.  

For the Grand opening on 12/11/1948 the B&O R.R. ran 2 special trains from Washington and one from Baltimore.  The A-List celebrity Arthur Godfrey headlined the event.  Santa Claus arrived by helicopter and then boarded a sleigh, pulled by Heim’s reindeer, for the ride to the factory.  Savage’s U.S. Post Office was painted with red and white stripes.  The crown of the event was the 20-foot tall, illuminated star mounted on top of the factory.  The attendance for the day’s event was between 12,000 and 15,000 people. Mr. Heim believed that his crowning glory would be to change the town’s name to “Santa Hiem, Merrieland” as “Heim” is the German word for “Home” the change would have interpreted to mean “Santa’s Home” in Maryland but spelled “Merrieland.”  The State reviewed and rejected his request.  

Despite the success of his grand opening and all of Mr. Heim’s ideas, issues with taxes, finances, the county’s Health Dept. and violations of Maryland’s Blue Laws forced him to close in March of 1950 and shortly after the Mill and all of the machinery was sold off.  Mr. Heim passed away in February of 1953, at the age of 69.   

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