Howard County Holiday House Tour turns its focus to Laurel

Guests will be welcomed to the Laurel Manor House Bed and Breakfast in Laurel on Sunday, Dec. 8, as part of the 43rd annual Holiday House Tour.
Guests will be welcomed to the Laurel Manor House Bed and Breakfast in Laurel on Sunday, Dec. 8, as part of the 43rd annual Holiday House Tour. (Jen Rynda/Baltimore Sun Media)

For its 43rd annual Holiday House Tour, the Howard County Historical Society is crossing county lines.

Featuring stops at Laurel Park, Montpelier Mansion, the Laurel Historical Society Museum, Laurel Manor House Bed and Breakfast and two private homes, it will be the first time the tour has highlighted the historic sites in Laurel when it rolls in on Sunday, Dec. 8.


“When we do this, we really focus on whatever location we’re going to,” said Shawn Gladden, executive director of Howard County Historical Society. “It is an all-encompassing geographical experience.”

With financial support from the Bob Lucido Team of the Keller Williams Integrity real estate firm, the holiday tours have become more diversified the past five years or so, Gladden said. Once centered in Ellicott City, recent tours have highlighted Columbia when it celebrated its 50th anniversary and various families important to Howard County such as the Clark family, which traces over 222 years of farming in the county and are owners of Clark’s Elioak Farm.


Many of the sites featured on this year’s tour, while in Laurel, have connections to prominent Howard County families, Gladden said, like the Phelps and Snowden families.

“We called up friends at Laurel Historical Society ... and they helped us and put us in contact with everyone,” Gladden said. “We partnered with them and Friends of Montpelier.”

“It was a big brainstorming session,” said Ann Bennett, executive director of Laurel Historical Society. “They do [tours] a little bit differently.”

The one day, five-hour Holiday House Tour takes 280 people on five coach buses to the various stops, providing a bagged lunch — this year by Laurel’s Pepper Jack Subs — and a mini-bottle of wine provided by the Wine Bin in Ellicott City.


Laurel’s holiday house tour takes places every other year — the next will be in 2020 — and is more of a walking tour, Bennett said.

“We’re excited to welcome the tour here,” Bennett said. “People outside of Laurel will come in and see our historic city.”

Tour participants will gather to board the buses at the Laurel Park racetrack, which will open at 11 a.m. for tours of the facility and complimentary coffee, tea or cocoa.

“Community partnerships are important,” said Sherry Jenkins, catering sales manager for Laurel Park. “Our building has been here since 1911 but people drive by and you don’t see it. A lot of people come in and have never been to a horse race before.”

There will be live racing that day, with the first race scheduled to be run before the buses leave at 12:50 p.m.

“Even if it is snowing, there will be a race,” Jenkins said. “The horses love it.”

From Laurel Park, the buses will travel to different sites, where groups will have bout 30 to 40 minutes at each site.

“Homeowners really enjoy getting in the spirit for this,” Gladden said. “They do a great job decorating. Last year, a homeowner hired a professional designer.”

A committee of Howard County Historical Society members reaches out to houses on the tour to answer questions and provide suggestions if needed, Gladden said.

At Laurel Manor Bed and Breakfast, Lisa Everett will have Christmas decorations on the first floor, including her Historical Society tree — a red, tinsel tabletop tree filled with ornaments from the Laurel Historical Society and skeleton keys she has strung with ribbons. Guests will be allowed upstairs to see the rooms and Everett will answer questions about the historic property built in 1880 and formerly known as the Phelps Mansion.

“Edward Phelps was a former mayor,” Everett said. “He got Laurel High School built. It is now the Laurel Boys and Girls Club.”

Everett also will display several photos of the various renovations she and her family have done since acquiring the historical property in 2011.

“We’re pretty excited to have a brand new spire; it is an exact replica,” Everett said. “The original one was crumbling.”

Rooms in the Montpelier Mansion, which dates to the 1780s, will be decorated by various local groups.

“We encourage people to try to decorate the way the house would look in Colonial times,” said Ann Wagner, office manager at Montpelier. ”We do not use real greens or candles anymore. Artificial things look really good nowadays and are so much safer.”

Twelve local artists are featured in Montpelier’s gallery, Wagner said, and their works will be available for sale. The site’s gift shop also will be open.

“This is an opportunity to see artwork by local people,” Wagner said. “It is a chance to show the house to people who otherwise do not know about us. That’s what we’re really happy about ... to talk about our programs, teas, house tours.”

Bennett said guests will be able to view the current exhibit at the Laurel History Museum — “Is there a Doctor in the House?” — and that its gift shop will also be open.

“We’re expecting a lot of people coming and going,” Bennett said. “There will be volunteers to answer any questions.”

Other stops on the tour include the Jardin House, built in 1878, and Snow Hill Manor, built in 1755. Buses will return to Laurel Park by 6 p.m.

“It’s a full day. It really goes by quickly,” Gladden said. “People love it. It is very festive and has a great holiday feel to it.”

The Howard County Historical Society Holiday House tour will be on Sunday, Dec. 8, beginning at 11 a.m. at Laurel Park, 198 Laurel Race Track Road. Buses depart at 12:50 p.m. Tickets are $65-$85. For more information, contact Shawn Gladden at 410-480-3250 or director@hchsmd.org.

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