Strolling through Laurel's historic homes

An engraved Laurel Historical Society Walking Tour plaque at the front entrance points to the longevity of the 1889 Victorian home where Jim and Marlene Frazier have lived in Old Town for almost 42 years.

Inside, a lovely parlor Christmas tree shines with white lights, cranberry garlands and treasured family ornaments.

Marlene Frazier said she began her holiday decorating early while prepping for the Dec. 8 Laurel Historical Society Holiday Home Tour — a fundraising event that invites curious passersby to peek past the exteriors of historic homes and businesses to the renovations and holiday décor within.

For the first time in the 30 years or so of serving on the tour’s planning committee (and as a past committee chair), Frazier is opening her own door to tour visitors. Her husband, Jim, said he looks forward to meeting new neighbors and seeing the additions and changes to other structures in his town.

The biennial holiday tradition began in May 1976 when the history group known today as the Laurel Historical Society organized as the Laurel Horizon Society and sponsored a House and Garden Tour.

A 42-year-old Laurel Horizon Society flier promoting that first tour — which started at the old City Hall and cost $3 — claims that Laurel has more 19th-century buildings than any other city in the country.

The Laurel Horizon Society’s mission to promote historic Laurel’s preservation, beautification and small town atmosphere has remained constant, although the season and name of the event have seen changes.

Marlene said the tour became a winter holiday tradition in 2001, and that the event consistently attracts familiar faces who’ve grown up or once lived in Laurel as well as townspeople.

“We try to look at the tour as an opportunity to celebrate our unique Old Town personality,” she said.

In addition to encouraging a sense of community, starting friendships and creating memories, the tour marks key moments in Laurel’s business history.

In 1976, for instance, the House and Garden Tour featured the medical offices (and residence of Dr. Richard and Betty Compton) at the site of the old Laurel Machine Shop that had been razed in 1891 and rebuilt using original hand-quarried stones.

In 2015, the Holiday House Tour showed A.M. Kroop and Sons, a custom bootmaker’s shop and landmark gem on C Street that was recently lost when third-generation proprietor Randy Kroop retired. (In August, Kroop said a real estate developer had shown interest in building an apartment building there.)

And this year’s Holiday Home Tour features DC Homme, a vintage-inspired men’s grooming lounge on Main Street at the site that was previously Loyola Federal Savings and then law offices.

The historic St. Mary of the Mills Sanctuary and six lovely period homes, including the Frazier’s Victorian and a millhouse, will also be showcased this year.

Marlene said that “everyone is pleased to have an 1840s millhouse on the tour, and it looks great.”

Tour planning committee member Lisa Everett wrote in an email that the committee is excited that St. Mary of the Mills, which is celebrating its 175-year anniversary, is participating. Refreshments will be available at the church’s Msgr. Keesler Parish Center, a new building designed to dwell in harmony with Old Town’s architecture.

Planning committee chair Clayton Cooper Jr., whose house was shown in the 2013 Holiday House Tour, is also excited about bringing the Laurel community together to support the Laurel Historical Society; ticket sales help finance the group’s general operations, public outreach and other events.

The event typically draws 150-200 attendees and raises around $3,000, he said.

Six-year planning committee member and local artist Trina Kvale — whose paintings signed L. Anjanine Kvale have been exhibited at Olive on Main, Laurel-Beltsville Senior Center, More Than Java Café and Sip at C Street Flats — has painted over a dozen historic structures in and around Laurel, including the (vanished) Laurel Mill, St. Mary of the Mills, the Laurel Museum and the Laurel Train Station.

Kvale sketched the image that appears on the cover of the Holiday Home Tour Booklet, and Marlene conducted deed research for the tour stops and wrote the property descriptions.

The locations of the private homes on the tour will be kept under wraps until Dec. 8 when the tour is scheduled to begin at the Laurel Museum at 1 p.m.

Tickets run $15 ($20 at the door) and are available through Dec. 7 at 4:30 p.m. at Montpelier Mansion, More Than Java Cafe, Rainbow Florist & Delectables, Ragamuffins Coffee, The Antique Center at the Savage Mill and Fulton Station Jewelers. The day of the tour, tickets will only be sold at the Laurel Museum from 1 p.m., when the tour begins at 817 Main St., until 3:30 p.m.

For details and to order tickets go to laurelhistoricalsociety.org. or call 301-725-7975. Wear comfortable walking shoes and no strollers, please. The Laurel Historical Society will collect food and gift card donations for the LARS holiday food drive at the Laurel Museum the day of the tour.

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