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Towns to open historic sites for tours this weekend


Historic homes and buildings in Westminster and Sykesville will be open to visitors this weekend for holiday tours.

On Westminster's Willis and Court streets, luminarias will line sidewalks leading to eight homes and three public buildings on the Holiday House Tour on Saturday.

Those attending the Historic Sykesville Christmas Tour on Sunday will follow a printed map and brochure with driving directions to seven houses and three buildings.

The Westminster Holiday House Tour "makes people aware of the lovely historic buildings in Westminster," Sue Thomas said. Thomas is chairwoman of the tour committee, a division of Westminster's Historic District Commission, which sponsors the event.

"It's festive and friendly, people are happy and the Christmas spirit is all around," she said. "A lot of people know each other, and because the area is closed to traffic, they are just all over the street looking at the beautifully decorated houses."

More than 1,000 community members are expected to attend.

According to Thomas, part of the event's yearlong planning process is having each homeowner work with a local florist to select arrangements to decorate the home.

In Sykesville, homeowners do their own decorating. The styles range from eclectic to traditional, according to Kari Greenwalt, curator of the Sykesville Gate House Museum and chairwoman of the Historic Sykesville Christmas Tour.

"I think the homeowners have as much fun as the people who come on the tour to see the houses," she said. "It's grown to a point now where people ask us to be part of the tour, and there's a friendly competition among them to see ... how they each decorate."

Approximately 300 people attended the event last year.

"Some people come and stay two hours at one house," Greenwalt said. "We've also had people come in the past and buy tickets to just go to one particular house because they grew up there or because their grandparents owned it."

Both towns have held tours of their historic homes and buildings every two years since the mid-1990s. Westminster's Holiday House Tour featured Willis Street six years ago, but many of the houses have since been renovated. There are also several homes on this year's tour that have never been opened to the public, according to Erik Fisher, Westminster's assistant town planner.

"It provides people who have been to both tours a perspective of what they can do to a home and still retain its historic integrity," he said.

Everyone in attendance will receive a booklet containing sketches of each house done by art students at Winters Mill High School, as well as a description and historic brief written by each homeowner.

"It's a community celebration of the history of our town, and that's why people come," Fisher said.

The Children's Chorus of Carroll County, several church choirs, the Winters Mill High School advanced chorus and the East Middle School band will provide live entertainment in the streets of Westminster throughout the day. There is also entertainment planned inside City Hall and the Church of the Ascension, two of the featured historic buildings.

Proceeds from the Sykesville tour will benefit one of its historic locations, the Gate House Museum.

"What we are hoping to do is raise funds toward the expansion of the Gate House building to double the size of exhibit space and storage," Greenwalt said. "We've grown out of the space we have. We've probably doubled our collection, and it's getting to the point that each year as donations come in we are just running out of space to put them."

Local author Bob Porterfield will sign copies of his book, Photographers and Photographs of Carroll County, 1840-1940 , at the museum in the afternoon.

Participating homeowners in Westminster decided to donate the money raised to Carroll Hospice.

"Hospice is a local group that does so many good things for people," Thomas said. "They are also constructing a new building on Washington Road, and I think people wanted to help out with that."

The Westminster tour is from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $12 at the door or $10 in advance at Westminster City Hall, participating florists and several Westminster businesses. The Sykesville tour is from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 and are available at the Sykesville Town House or Gate House Museum.

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