Hundreds brave cold for Laurel Historical Society's holiday house tour

  • House tour ticket-holders leave the Miller home on Montgomery Street, one of the stops in the Laurel Historical Society's Holiday House Tour on Dec 14.
House tour ticket-holders leave the Miller home on Montgomery… (Photo by Nate Pesce )
December 17, 2013|By Gwendolyn Glenn

Cold temperatures, sleet and snow did not stop the nearly 200 people who came out for the Laurel Historical Society's Holiday House Tour on Saturday, Dec. 14.

Warmly dressed people braved the cold to tour brightly lit homes and buildings, elegantly decorated for the Christmas holiday season. The event attracted newcomers and those who regularly take the self-guided house tours.

"I've been coming for years because I love seeing the homes and the renovations the owners have made," said Shari Pollard, a member of the Laurel Historical Society, as she picked up tickets at the Laurel Museum, the starting point for the tour. "The snow wasn't going to stop the show for me. I find it exciting to see the great bones and structures of these homes. I couldn't miss it."

Pollard's friend, Marcia Philblad, of West Laurel, was also eager to begin knocking on doors. She has attended the event over the past 20 years.

"It's always fun to see the beautiful homes and how they've been decorated and renovated," Philblad said.

When the house tours began in 1976, the event took place during the summer. Margie McCeney, co-chairwoman of this year's event, said in the early 1980s the tours were switched to the Christmas season to increase ticket sales because more people are out about that time of year shopping and enjoying seeing Christmas decorations.

Of the seven stops on this year's Holiday House Tour, four were private homes: 203 Sixth St., 328 Montgomery St., 412 Montgomery St. and 9309 Whiskey Bottom Road, a Howard County home that supposedly houses a ghost. St. Mark's United Methodist Church was also included, as well as the Laurel Woman's Club and the Sisters of the Pallotine Convent.

"The convent is really the most unusual stop on the tour this year because how often do you get to go inside a convent?" McCeney said.

At the convent, tour goers were greeted with the soft sounds of Christmas music and welcoming smiles from the nuns.

"We're glad to let people see the convent and our decorations," said Sister Karen Lester. "We put decorations up every year but we normally wouldn't have put them up this early."

The sisters, who also operate Pallotti Early Learning Center, had three Christmas trees — one near the entrance door; another one in their spacious dining room near the fireplace decorated with a garland and red stockings, with a warm fire blazing; and a decorated tree in their living room.

"Most of the ornaments on the trees were handmade by one of the sisters and people in the daycare center," Lester said.

In the front of the convent's chapel, a large manger scene was erected and surrounded by red poinsettias. All of the biblical characters were included, but the manger itself was empty.

"Jesus was not born before Christmas, so we don't put the baby Jesus in until after we get back from our Christmas midnight Mass," Lester said.

After touring the convent, Laurel resident Ruth Walls said in addition to seeing the decorations, they got a chance to learn more about the convent and the lives of the nuns.

"I've never been in a convent before, and it was interesting talking to them about becoming a nun and why," Walls said. "The decorations were beautiful."

Finding a parking space along the tour route was hard at times. But that didn't deter Sharon Bowser, of Laurel, who has attended the event for the past five years.

"I like that there are different homes each year, and I love the decorations and the woodwork in the homes," Bowser said.

At Margaret Miller's home in the 300 block of Montgomery Street, visitors were greeted by the family's friendly dog and Miller, who gave them a bit of her early-1900s home's history. She said when approached about including her home in the tour, she initially said no.

"I had just finished up some renovations, but then I said I need to give myself a deadline to get my decorations done, so I said yes," Miller said.

In addition to a live Christmas tree, Miller's decorations in her multistoried home included windows and doorways adorned with wreaths and candles. The banister on the staircase was decorated with garlands and poinsettias were placed on the hardwood landings.

As Lilia Toler admired the home's furnishings, she said her husband gave her a ticket to the tour as a Christmas present.

"He knows I love to get inside these older houses because each one is uniquely done and I get a lot of ideas that I can use in my own home," Toler said. "It's nice later to pass by these homes and know how they look inside."

In the upstairs portion of the Miller home, guests were entertained by Miller's personable 9-year-old grandson, Tony Forame, who pointed out the unique aspects of the home's structure. Charles Wentling, a woodwork hobbyist, was impressed.

"I love seeing how people have kept these old homes in their natural state and the antiques," he said. "This was a Sears kit house and probably went for about $1,800."

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