By Gwendolyn Glenn
7:42 PM EST, December 17, 2013
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."
Betsy Welsh's home, a few doors down, was also a Sears kit home built in the 1920s. Welsh moved into the home 30 years ago.
"When I lived on Sixth Street, my house was on the tour," Welsh said. "This is the first time for this home. I waited to put it on the tour until after I'd finished remodeling my kitchen."
Like the rest of the house, Welsh's spacious kitchen was filled with Christmas decorations. There was also a set of drinking glasses on the large kitchen table, that had the entire "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" poem written on them.
At St. Mark's Church, the group listened to a member give the church's history. A rendition of St. Mark's Church was used for the Laurel Historical Society's 2013 Christmas ornament and marked the last in the organization's series of ornaments of historic churches of Laurel.
The church itself was decorated with red poinsettias, wreaths and a Christmas tree in the downstairs area. Church pastor the Rev. Robbie Morganfield said more than 100 people had toured the church by mid-afternoon.
"This is a good opportunity for people to visit us and see the church, which has a strong history and continues to play a role in the Laurel community," Morganfield said.
Most of the ticket holders were locals, but one group of 16 people came from Clarksville for the tour.
"This was the first time I've been on the tour, and it was great seeing the houses' decorations and what the owners have done with them," said Rose Fiskum. "This was worth the trip."
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