Christmas homes open in Historic Bath

Published 11:11 am Friday, December 10, 2010

Contributing Writer

BATH — An army of floral designers and other volunteers descended on the Historic Bath State Historic Site earlier this week to prepare several historic homes for this weekend’s Christmas open house.
The event is planned for Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., according to Historic Bath site manager Leigh Swain. The open house is free and the public is welcome.
Garlands, wreaths and table arrangements were being fashioned of fresh-cut greenery and other natural materials for use in the 1751 Palmer-Marsh House, the 1790 Van Der Veer House and the 1830 Bonner House.
“Primarily our designers are members of the Historic Bath Garden Club,” Swain said. “If they didn’t come help us, it would be really hard to pull off this event. They’ve done everything from picking greenery to cloving oranges.”
Free tours will be offered throughout Sunday afternoon, and the Bonner House will complete the treat for the senses with gingerbread baked fresh in the kitchen hearth along with fresh-pressed apple served up in the backyard, Swain said.
This year’s preparations were done by volunteers with a bit of a heavy heart, according to Swain.
“There has been a void this year. Mrs. Sally Brooks recently passed away and she was a long-time designer for us during the open house preparations,” she said. “It was always kind of a joke, that there was a certain table she always handled the decorations for. So we’re going to have a sign there in her memory.”
Along with the hands-on designers and decorators, other local individuals have assisted in planning and executing the open house.
“There was a lot of scouting for greenery, and I have a new site assistant, Wayne Randall, who we’ve had to introduce to the rigors and the fun of this,” Swain said with a laugh. “And again this year, George Chrismon of Garden Classics helped us in scouting and cutting greenery. We’ve had a lot of people let us cut things in their yard.
Finding their way into the historic homes have been cotton bolls, magnolia leaves, dried flowers grown at the historic site, pine cones and greenery, boxwood, holly and nandina berries.
The houses may look a bit more festive than they did in earlier years, Swain added.
“Our purpose is not to emulate exactly what the 19th century families were doing, but it is a modern interpretation of that,” she said.
Colorful decorations are not the only things on tap during this year’s Christmas celebration.
The Ad Hoc Players — Lorraine Hale of New Bern and Don Shiffler of Kinston — will offer special entertainment.
“They are a tradition for us in Bath … it wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing their harpsicord and recorder music, as well as her vocal performances,” Swain said.
Another special guest will be poet Joan H. Daniels.
“We are going to have her in the visitors center to do some poetry reading and sign copies of her book, which we sell in the gift shop,” Swain said of the Bertie County poet.
As an added treat, the Beaufort County Choral Society will present a concert in the sanctuary of the historic Saint Thomas Episcopal Church.
“They will perform intermittently throughout the afternoon beginning at 1 p.m.,” Swain noted. “For anyone who hasn’t listened to music inside Saint Thomas, the acoustics are just incredible.”
For those who are unable to attend Sunday’s open house, Historic Bath will offer other opportunities to tour the homes. The site is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; guided tours are conducted for a small fee every hour.
The interior decorations will only be on display for a few days, but the exteriors of the houses will be decked out throughout the holiday season, Swain added. Several local school groups have signed up for special visits, too.
“I’m happy to be able to show a different way of celebrating Christmas with today’s students,” she said.