“Winter Wonderland”

Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Few people may be aware that one of the most memorable and popular holiday songs of all time, “Winter Wonderland,” was written in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania. For the folks of Honesdale, Wayne County, holiday festivities would be incomplete without celebrating the song and its writer, Richard “Dick” Smith, with the annual Winter Wonderland festival and parade.

Born in Honesdale in 1901 to Eliza (Bruning) and John Smith, Dick attended Penn State University and later moved to New York City to pursue a career in songwriting. Most of his work was writing jingles, which was not what he had hoped to achieve. In 1930 he married Scranton native Jean Connor, and together they continued to live in New York. Unfortunately, Smith contracted tuberculosis a year later. At the time, those with TB were placed in sanitoriums to prevent the spread of the disease. The primary treatment was fresh air and a specialized diet. Scranton’s West Mountain Sanatorium, which opened in 1903 and was known for its state-of-the-art technologies and treatments, was close to both childhood homes, so the couple moved back to Honesdale for Smith’s treatment.

Despite his illness, Smith continued to write music. According to those closest to him, the lyrics for “Winter Wonderland” came to him while watching children play in the snow outside his window at the sanitorium. He was reminded of his childhood winters playing in Honesdale Central Park, directly across the street from his home. Smith recovered well enough to return to New York, where he collaborated with professional composer and friend Felix Bernard (1897–1944) to add music to his lyrics. One of Bernard’s previous successes had been his songwriting collaboration on 1919’s “Dardenella.”


Dick Smith at the piano, with sheet music for “Winter Wonderland” on the music rack. Wayne County Historical Society, Honesdale PA

Dick Smith at the piano, with sheet music for “Winter Wonderland” on the music rack.
Wayne County Historical Society, Honesdale PA

Smith lived long enough to see “Winter Wonderland” released at the end of 1934. The song was immediately popular due to the release of a single by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians that became one of the top pop songs of the year. Sadly, Smith would not live to see the huge success the song would become in later years. He succumbed to his TB infection and died the day before his 34th birthday on September 28, 1935.

“Winter Wonderland” has become a Christmas standard, regularly topping music charts year after year. The song has been recorded in dozens of popular versions by artists such as Perry Como, the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Darlene Love, Michael Bublé, Eurythmics, and Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga and has been featured in countless movies and TV shows. According to Music Reports, “Winter Wonderland” ranked as the fifth most recorded holiday song ever as of November 30, 2017, with 70,471 versions. Dick Smith’s work has also placed Honesdale on the map for Christmas fanatics who come far and wide to attend the town’s Winter Wonderland festival, attracting more than 5,000 tourists each year.

The Pennsylvania Historical Marker for “Winter Wonderland” was dedicated on November 27, 2021, and was installed in front of Smith’s childhood home at 922 Church Street in Honesdale, now occupied by the Campbell Law Offices.


Alli Davis is the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program.