Local historic places deck the halls


Staff Writer

Some local families may have to worry about dropping an antique ornament when trimming the tree, but for several locations in the Ohio Valley, sometimes the antiques themselves are the things being decorated.

Several historic homes, districts and buildings in the area serve as museums year-round, offering guided tours of history and the ways of life in the 19th and 20th centuries. During the late fall months, however, these buildings get spruced up with some holiday cheer, sometimes adding seasonal decorations to the normal tour, other times changing the focus entirely.

Among these are the Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum in Barnesville, which for a month between mid-November and December becomes the Magic of Christmas, in which historical living is recreated as people would have celebrated in the days before Rudolph.

Belmont County Historical Society President Emery Stewart, one of the leaders in charge of decorating the Victorian Mansion Museum, said the focus of the displays is on trees, flora and homemade ornaments.

“We emphasize fruits, floral displays and cones, often made at Thanksgiving time” Stewart said. “They’ll take wrapping paper from around Thanksgiving time, add some tinsel, and hang that up on the tree, expecting Father Christmas to fill them with sweet meats, nuts, and things back then.”

Stewart said the museum houses a great number of decorations accumulated throughout the year, oriented for the late-1800s time period organizers adhere to, while still making accommodations for practicality or safety. Instead of glass, lit candles and live trees, Ohio fire codes require artificial trees, candles that remain unlit, and plastic ornaments that appear identical to the casual observer, though Emery said the atmosphere more than helps make up for it for visitors. Guests include students on field trips from local schools who visit and meet Father Christmas.

“They step back into 1893 as the door closes. It’s almost like the family who lives here normally is gone for a couple days, and if you don’t touch anything they don’t have to know we’ve been here — and the kids just think that’s the biggest hoot.”

“We emphasize Father Christmas, as opposed to Santa Claus, because the European tradition of Father Christmas came over right after the Civil War and was not in red and white, as we often see, but with fur-colored clothing with magenta and dark green. … Kids always get excited, as they look up and they’ll say, ‘You don’t look like Santa Claus,’ as he says, ‘I worked until 1998, and then I retired and my boy Santa took over.’ A lot of people can talk to Santa, but not everyone gets to talk to Santa’s dad.”

From the same era, Glen Dale’s Cockayne Farmstead is also holding its annual Christmas at Cockayne open house, which is set to be held Dec. 16. Carolers will accompany children’s activities and the guided tours of the Victorian house.

Elsewhere, the Belmont County Sheriff’s Residence Museum, once the home of all county sheriffs between 1888 and 1976, is also trimmed and decorated for the season. At Oglebay Park, the Pine Room last month played host to the Festival of Trees, where trees were decorated by local crafters and sold to the public.

The Magic of Christmas tours in Barnesville began in November and will end Dec. 17. The museum is open 1-5 p.m. on Fridays and 1-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today