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Laurel Holiday House Tour offers a peek behind front doors

Betsy Welsh said her friends have been pestering her for several years to include her 1920s home in the Laurel Historical Society's biannual Holiday House Tour.

Welsh was waiting to have her kitchen remodeled, and when she finally got around to it a couple years ago, she said "OK, it's time to do this."

Welsh's home on Montgomery Street is one of seven locations included on this year's house tour, Saturday, Dec. 14.

Margie McCeney, co-chairwoman of the house tour committee, said the tour has been a Laurel tradition since 1976.

"It's a great opportunity for people to see inside the homes that they drive or walk by all the time and think, 'I wonder what it looks like inside?' " McCeney said. "The house tour is the way to do that.

The self-guided tour is from 2-6 p.m. and begins at the Laurel Museum at 817 Main St. From there, the houses can be visited in any order. Of the seven locations on the tour, stops include homes like Welsh's, along with the Sisters of the Pallottine Convent, St. Mark's United Methodist Church and the Laurel Women's Club. There's also a house a little "out of the way" in North Laurel in Howard County, McCeney said, but it's "worth the drive."

People take the house tour for several reasons, McCeney said. The biggest reason, she said, is the mystery and promise each house holds. When she looks out her front window, for example, McCeney can see four nearly identical homes built for mill workers in the 1910s, but she knows that at least two of them are "like day and night inside. It's amazing to see what people do with their homes."

"People are curious, and they always wonder what a house is like," she said. "Some people go all out with Christmas decorations, so that can be a draw. I think, too, it's a great way to get ideas for what you want to do in your own home. You can look in magazines all you want, but when you see something in person, I think it can be quite inspiring."

The committee puts together a list of a variety of buildings with unique features or an "interesting life," McCeney said, but there's no one unifying factor for houses on the tour. Older, more historic houses are featured alongside more modern ones.

"Whether it's a renovated kitchen or fancy Christmas decorations, we just want something on every stop of the tour that's unusual," she said. "We hope each stop includes something people haven't seen before."

A home's history is an appealing factor in a "deeply rooted community" like Laurel. Two years ago, committee co-chairwoman Lisa Everett's home was on the tour. She and her husband had just purchased the historic Phelps House on Montgomery Street and were in the process of renovating.

"We own the house, but it really belongs to Laurel," Everett said. "We had 150 people walking through and telling us their stories of growing up in Laurel and what they remember about the house and the families that lived there in the past."

Welsh, a fourth-generation Laurel resident, said she thinks Laurel's history is definitely part of the appeal of house tours, and her home is full of history. Incorporated seamlessly into her home are numerous antiques with stories of their own — a corner cabinet from the 1700s that will display a set of Japanese china from immediately after World War II, a mirror that hung in her great-grandparents house on 10th Street, a portrait of her mother taken in 1919 and a pipe from the original organ at St. Philip's Church, among many others. In an upstairs room is the family tree — photos from four generations of her family hung on the "branches" of a tree painted on the wall.

"I hope this house shows I treasure our heritage, but that I still made the home hopefully very usable, very comfortable to be in and live in," she said. "This is a welcoming place. I don't want it to feel like a museum. It's important to me that when people come through those doors, they feel comfortable."

Holiday House Tour is Saturday, Dec. 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $18 the day of the tour and can be purchased at the Laurel Museum. Tickets are $15 in advance and can be purchased at the museum, Main Street Pharmacy, Minutemen Press, Rainbow Florist or at laurelhistoricalsociety.org.


Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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