Woodville Plantation decorates for several Christmases
November 19, 2016 12:00 AM
Docent Harry Java, dressed in early American costume, stands in the passage of Woodville Plantation. The table-top tree, a German Christmas tradition, is the room's only holiday decoration.
Mr. Harry Java is dressed for the more recent Victorian period in the dining room of Woodville Plantation, also known as Neville House. The National Historic Landmark in Collier is preparing for its holiday tour.
The dining room of Woodville Plantation is subtly decorated for the holidays.
A few sprigs of greenery on the fireplace mantel are the only Christmas decorations in the drawing room at Woodville in Collier.
By Bob Batz Jr. / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Woodville Plantation’s supporters are doing something different for this holiday season to attract visitors to the more than 230-year-old country home-turned-museum on Route 50 in Collier.
They’ve decorated the rooms of the place, also known as Neville House, in the styles of different eras going all the way back to 1780. That’s when it was built as the home of Brig. Gen. John Neville, who fought in the Revolutionary War but became more famous afterward as a federal revenue inspector and tax collector during the Whiskey Rebellion. The museum interprets the period his family lived there (1775-1815) and those of the two other families who lived there until it was left empty in 1975.
The main event, “Christmas Through the Centuries,” runs from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Tours of the home and grounds will be narrated by costumed docents such as Harry Java, who will greet guests in the drawing room he helped decorate in 1780s seasonal style.
“Minimal decoration,” he says. “Some sprigs of greenery on the mantel” and a couple of sprigs on the piano.
And that’s about it.
“What they lacked in decoration, they made up for in revelry,” says Mr. Java, who will be singing along to “Joy to the World” and other Christmas carols played on the piano. He may ask guests to dance.
Visitors will move on to the 1820s-1840s in the “passage,” or middle hall. It’s also minimally decorated with a little garland and a German-inspired table-top Christmas tree, or Weihnachtsbaum, hung with gingerbread and colored-paper chains.
Then it’s on to the dining room, a bit more done up as per the Victorian era with a full-size tree and glass ornaments. Here, guests may sample holiday punch before moving on through a typically furnished bedroom and on to the kitchen. There, in what once was a detached log structure housing a huge hearth, guests can nosh on miniature cupcakes made with late 1700s-style American Heritage chocolate reproduced by Mars.
The kitchen won’t be decorated, but as in all the rooms, visitors will have chances to learn a lot of history and not just about holiday customs. Do you know why they’re called “cupcakes”? Ask the docent what the confections used to be baked in.
From there, tourgoers can walk through the museum’s gift shop and outside to the still house, where residents once made whiskey. It will be decorated in a more modern theme, complete with a little commercialism. The small nonprofit will be offering pine cone wreaths and other holiday items for sale to support the place.
Visitors can sip hot cider with cookies and also warm up outside around a bonfire. There may even be s’mores. Starting at 4 p.m., tours will be lit indoors by candles and outdoors by period cressets, which are miniature bonfires in baskets affixed to metal poles.
“Early tiki torches,” quips volunteer and history buff Dan Ragaller.
He’ll be stationed outside, partying like it’s Christmas 1799. He will fire blanks from his black-powder rifle, which is how, pre-Facebook, they communicated tidings of joy from plantation to plantation. He may even mix it up with his visiting mates before they put their arms around each other and make peace on Earth.
Mr. Ragaller grins thinking about what, for some back then, was the true meaning of Christmas: “Drinking and brawling!”
Admission to “Christmas through the Centuries” is $8 for adults, $15 per couple and $20 for families. Pre-registration is not required. The decorations will be left up until the museum closes for the season after Dec. 11. Woodville is at 1375 Washington Pike, Collier (15017). For more information about the National Historic Landmark or the event, visit woodvilleplantation.org or call 412-221-0348.
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.
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