Savage, Maryland almost became Santa Heim, Merrieland. Not in a child’s dream but in the real-life vision of business owner Harry Heim, who bought the whole town — including Savage Mill, the land, and 175 homes — in December 1947 for $450,000.
Given that the mill had shut down, putting a lot of people out of work, and that Heim had perfected his handblown ornaments and needed a larger factory — plus a bunch of workers — to increase production, it seemed like a match made in, well, the North Pole.
Even before buying Savage, Heim was responsible for producing 60 percent of all ornaments in the United States, and Woolworth’s was selling 90 percent of his production.
As Santa stuffed increasingly larger profits down Heim’s chimney, he used some of the money to give Savage a makeover.
Within six months after he bought the town, almost all the machinery was gone from the mill, replaced by Christmas ball-making apparatus — and workers to operate it. Heim renovated about 100 of the most dilapidated houses, remaking the community to look like an early American village with a year-round Christmas motif, complete with signs that read “Santa Heim.”
He began filing out the paperwork to officially change the town’s name.
But, alas, the tax Grinch would come calling by 1949. Heim was indicted by the state for tax evasion, fined $100, and his operations were eventually shut down. By 1951, the mill sold to the Winer brothers, whose family still owns the mill to this day.
Adam Winer said Heim was an important part of the mill’s history. “It might not have worked out, but Harry Heim did have a vision for Savage Mill,” said Winer. “My grandfather and his brother had a vision for the mill, and I’m now the third generation. Hopefully I can say it worked out for the Winers.”
During Heim’s short stint in Savage, his ornaments made their way across the country — and into the local hands of Savage residents Lois and Arnold Landvoigt. “We are now the largest collector of Santa Heim ornaments,” said Lois.
The Landvoigts were instrumental in putting together a Santa Heim exhibit — newly open in the Howard County Welcome Center on Main Street in Old Ellicott City — where you can learn more details about Harry Heim and see the ornaments.
If on paper Heim was a failed business owner in Savage, he brought a spirit of Christmas joy — for the right price — to many people. “You could buy a Christmas ornament with your child’s name on it,” said Lois. “He was a creative guy.”
Just how many ornaments do the Landvoigts have? “That’s like asking me how many old cars I have,” said Arnold, who refurbishes old Pontiacs.
Really, how many ornaments? “Let’s just say, boxes and boxes,” said Lois.
Go see the ornaments and learn about Harry Heim at the Howard County Welcome Center, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except closed on Mondays.