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11/29/07 - Rowe House Decorations

Written by: Kathy Lacroix

Members of the Gilford Historical Society have been busy decorating the Rowe House for our Open House on December 2, Sunday, from 1-4:00 PM. Since the farmhouse was built in 1838, we want it to look like it might have been back in the mid 1800’s.

This year, we have a special exhibit of toys that have been loaned to us, treasured toys from many years past, complete with a brief paragraph telling about it. We have a beautiful doll that has been treasured since it was received in 1931, complete with real hair and a brand new Christmas outfit for its debut in the Rowe House. There are a number of paper dolls that were Christmas gifts in the late 40’s (actually they are cardboard dolls), complete with many changes of clothes and their own stands. We have toys, dolls, puzzles, and board games plus many items from the Star Wars era in the 70’s and 80’s.

Come and see the special exhibit of toys around the tree in the parlor and displayed in the bedroom and remember your own childhood, share memories with your children and grandchildren. Come and see the enlarged Dickens Christmas Scene (complete with lights) in the dining room. For children and grandchildren, come and decorate a Christmas sugar cookie in the kitchen. As a special treat, Denise Sanborn, the chorus director at the Gilford Middle High School, will be there around 3:00 with some of the students in the chorus to provide live music.

In decorating the house so it would look appropriate for a mid 1800’s farmhouse, it was interesting to learn that many of the customs we take for granted today came to us during the Victorian era in England (1837-1901). Before then, a family might have celebrated Christmas by attending church and then sharing a special meal with family or friends. Gifts were not usually exchanged, unless a child received clothes, a handmade toy, or fruit.

Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, brought the custom of decorating a Christmas tree with him from his homeland in Germany. When a newspaper in England printed a lithograph of the Royal Family gathered around a tree in 1848, the custom spread to many English homes. Although German settlers had brought their customs with them when they settled in America, the idea of decorating a Christmas tree did not catch on here until the same lithograph was published in Goody’s Book in 1850.

Early trees were decorated with items that were either easily obtained, such a pinecones and berries, or that could be made for the special event. Gingerbread men, sugar cookies, and hard candies were items that were hung on the trees and that could later be eaten. Boys and girls enjoyed stringing popcorn and cranberries along with making paper chains. Sometimes dried fruit and nuts were added. Candles were carefully placed on the branches and either a star or angle was placed on top. Needless to say, the candles were lit only for a short period of time and closely supervised by the adults.

Stringing garlands of cranberries and popcorn is a tradition that is still enjoyed by boys and girls today. Sarah and Dean Anderson volunteered to string the garlands of cranberries that decorate the tree in the parlor. Last year, four girls in Gerrie McKenna’s after school program at the Gilford Community Church strung popcorn garlands for the tree. Since they informed me (politely) that it was not easy because the popcorn kept breaking, we kept the garlands in a dry and cool spot and are able to use them again this year. Our thanks go to: Shalyn Furgison, Danielle Maupin, Summer McGaffigan, and Tori Yale.

Around this same time, Victorians and Americans began decorating their front porches and doors with evergreen branches, along with their doors, windows, staircase railings and mantles. We continue the custom today with our evergreen wreathes, berries, fruit, pinecones and ribbons. At the Rowe House our mantles are decorated with evergreen boughs, pinecones, and fruit.

After the Civil War, the hand made decorations began to be replaced with store bought items, some were made in the United States but many were imported from Germany. The simple Christmas tree became more elaborate for those who could afford it. Boys and girls began to receive more and more gifts, such as dolls and dollhouses, board games, wind-up toys, rocking horses, and sleds.

All are invited to our December 2nd Holiday Open House on Sunday from 1:00-4:00. We are also pleased to be holding six special Open Houses for local groups, including Brownie and Girl Scout troops. If your club or group would be interested or if you have a treasured toy you would like to share for this special exhibit, call Kathy at 524-3390.

For information concerning Gilford’s Historical Society, go to www.gilfordhistoricasociety.org or e-mail at thoames@worldpath.net.