Holiday tours in Washington extend into garden this year

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Two of Washington's historic homes will be shown in a different light Dec. 6-8 -- candlelight.

For at least the past 20 years, the David Bradford House and the LeMoyne House, the home of the Washington County Historical Society, have opened their doors to show the public how people in the 18th and 19th centuries decorated their homes for the Christmas holidays.

Clay Kilgore, executive director of the historical society, said he can't come up with an exact date when the two historic houses first were opened to the public for the holidays, but he said he has seen photos of the event from the early 1990s.

This year, the historical society is for the first time extending the tours outdoors into the adjacent garden.

"We'll fill the garden with lights for the event," Mr. Kilgore, of Washington, said. "As patrons walk along the candy cane path and get close to Santa Claus, who'll be sitting in a tent along with helping elves, the lights will be red and white. Farther on, past a group of carolers, the lights will be multicolored."

Claysville resident Billy Stoller, who plays Santa at places all over Washington, will wear the traditional red Santa outfit and sport a homegrown, white beard.

"Stoller keeps the beard all year long and is a veritable 12-month, nonstop Santa," Mr. Kilgore said. "In our garden, children will be able to sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. They'll also be given a small gift bag to take home with them as well as hot chocolate and cookies."

The garden will have a new addition in time for the holidays. The historical society members are planting a pine tree that will serve as the home's perennial Christmas tree. Mr. Kilgore said members are consulting with the Martha Washington Garden Club to make sure the tree is planted in the right location.

Both historic houses will be decorated for the holidays, with the LeMoyne House, at 49 E. Maiden St., dating its tours to 1813, which means the house will be ornamented with pine swags and holly.

"Although the LeMoynes finished construction of their home in 1812, they didn't move in until February of the following year," Mr. Kilgore said. "That means December of 1813 would have been the first time they celebrated Christmas in the house. Six or seven docents in period attire will be positioned in each room to talk about the house and its history."

At the Bradford House, just a block away at 175 S. Main, the setting will be a Twelfth Night celebration of the 1790s. For the first time on the holiday tour, as many as a dozen docents will portray the characters in David Bradford's life -- his wife, Elizabeth; their sons, David Jr. and Edmund; and a servant girl.

Board member Tripp Kline of Washington will portray David Bradford. Former board member Fran McDowell of Washington will portray his wife, and Mr. Kilgore will take on the role of a party guest.

"More than anything, the tours are give back to the community," Mr. Kilgore said. "Throughout the year, so many people have helped support the two houses with donations and sponsorships. Although the tours are fundraisers for the two houses, they're mainly a chance for us to show our supporters the beauty of the houses by candlelight."

The tours will begin at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 when the LeMoyne House stages a light-up ceremony. Patrons will be able to watch the annual Christmas parade in Washington, which will begin at 7 p.m. at Chestnut and Franklin and proceed along Main Street past the courthouse to Railroad Street.

"We'll have 100 to 120 units in the parade -- everything from floats and high school marching bands to social organizations like the Lions and Rotary clubs, Boy and Girl Scout units, church groups, and, of course, Santa Claus waving to the crowd from a sleigh float," Pete Stefansky, director of the Washington Business District Authority, said.

The candlelit tours at the LeMoyne House will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7, and at the David Bradford House from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7 and 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 8. Admission for each house tour is $5, $4 for seniors and students. Information: 724-225-6740.

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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