Maryland memories: Christmas as it used to be

A candle, greenery, an 1844 coverlet and a hymnal opened to a Christmas song help decorate a room at Belair Mansion.
Special To The Sun

Tired of the same old silver garland? Not to mention those colored glass balls and twinkling white lights.

We at LIVE! know just how you feel. Trying to head off the holiday-decorating doldrums, we looked to some local historic properties for inspiration. We were curious how the folks who run these sites keep the holiday spirit fresh in homes where the season has been celebrated, literally, for centuries.

Some take their lead from the lives of the notable Marylanders who once lived at these well-preserved manors. Others reach back to customs that were in vogue in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

Below, we tell you about a dozen of these homes -- how their long-ago owners celebrated Christmas, how they’re being decked out for the holidays this year, and what festive events they’re offering visitors who drop by.

The seasonal scenes there may be all the holiday inspiration you’ll need.

Belair Mansion and Stable Museums

12207 Tulip Grove Drive, Bowie, 301-809-3089.

Built in 1745, this Georgian-style plantation mansion has been home to a number of Maryland notables over its 257-year history, including Samuel Ogle, a provincial governor of Maryland.

Until it ceased operation in 1957, Belair was the oldest continuously operating horse farm in the country. From the 1930s until its closing, Belair was also one of the premier racing stables in the United States, serving as a base for Gallant Fox and Omaha, father and son horses who each won the Triple Crown.

The recently restored stable includes a caretaker’s apartment that is among the areas decorated for the holiday season. Museum specialist Pam Williams says the apartment decor will cover the 1920s and reflect the simple country lifestyle of the young farm family that would have lived there at that time.

The mansion, whose occupants were considerably more well-to-do, offers opulent decorations, with various rooms reflecting 18th- through 20th-century traditions.

Holiday events

Decorations displayed Dec. 7-30.

Candlelight open house. 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Dec. 7-8. $3. Under 15 free.

Holiday tea. 4 p.m. Dec. 12 and 28. Three-course tea and tour. $17.

House tours. 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Free.

Carroll County Farm Museum

500 S. Center St., Westminster, 410-876-2667.

Built in the early 1850s as Carroll County’s almshouse, the restored farmhouse is now a museum illustrating how a financially comfortable farm family lived in the mid-19th century.

This year’s Christmas theme is “A Holiday Setting in Currier & Ives.” Each room in the farmhouse will display a different Currier & Ives print and reflect that print in its holiday decor.

Musical performances by area students will enhance guided tours. Collections of Currier & Ives artwork, antique teddy bears and early-20th-century Christmas cards will be displayed.

Holiday events

Decorations displayed Dec. 6-8 and 13-15. Tree-lighting ceremony with carol singing. 6 p.m. Dec. 7.

House tours. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 6 and 13, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Dec. 7 and 14, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 8 and 15. $1 per person, under 6 free with paying adult.

Holiday teas. Light tea and tour. Seatings at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Dec. 10-12 and 17-20. Reservations required. $8.

Evergreen House

4545 N. Charles St., 410-516-0341.

This 48-room museum is the former home of U.S. Ambassador John Work Garrett. It’s known for its Rare Book Library, which holds more than 8,000 volumes, its private theater and its large collection of paintings, including works by Degas and Picasso.

This year’s holiday decorations will have an international theme inspired by Garrett’s diplomatic postings in Paris, Rome, Washington and other locales. Decorators Michael Anthony and Jake Boone will cover 1914 to the early 1930s, and each room on the first floor will have its own unique look.

Holiday events

Decorations displayed Dec. 3-Jan. 5.

Holiday open house. 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 8. $2 for nonmembers.

House tours. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Last tour begins at 3 p.m. $3-$6.

Hampton National Historic Site

535 Hampton Lane, Towson, 410-823-1309.

As a Colonial-era estate, Hampton brought worldwide attention to Baltimore and helped establish the city as a major port.

When the vast mansion was completed in 1790, it was the largest home in the United States. The estate included a farm, an ironworks and a timber company, and it was with the goods from these operations that the owners engaged in worldwide trade using ships sailing from Baltimore.

Today, continuing tours focus on the seven generations of the Ridgely family that called Hampton home, and on the indentured servants, slaves, farmers, hired workers and others who provided the labor that kept the estate operating for more than 150 years.

For the holidays, the rooms traditionally are redesigned with period artifacts. (Ninety percent of the furnishings and other items in the house are original to the Ridgely family, says Debra Sturm, chief of visitor services.)

Decorations vary according to the time period designated for each room. Rooms reflecting the 1700s have no decorations, in keeping with the custom of the time. The music room, however, will display an ornate Victorian Christmas tree as well as greenery and toys.

The focal point of the dining room is a lavish table set for a second dessert course to be served at an 1820s dinner party.

Visitors can also view the log young Eliza Ridgely kept in the 1840s, documenting the Christmas gifts given to slave children each year.

Holiday events

Decorations on display Dec. 10-Jan. 5.

Holiday program. “Who Worked the Holidays?” Participatory event explores how the Ridgely family, their servants and slaves celebrated the holidays. First-come, first-served for 35 to 40 people. 2 p.m. Dec. 8. Free.

Yuletide open house. Noon-4 p.m. Dec. 15. Free.

House tours. Hourly from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Free.

Homewood House

3400 N. Charles St., 410-515-5589.

Homewood was a wedding gift from Charles Carroll of Carrollton to his only son, Charles Jr. The senior Carroll is best remembered as one of four Maryland men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Museum volunteers and the Homeland Garden Club will decorate the 1801 house to reflect Baltimore’s early Federal period, 1800 to 1815. The “mid-Atlantic, cosmopolitan” holiday theme includes greens, fruit and natural plant materials, with a few oyster shells thrown in for good measure.

Holiday events

Decorations displayed Dec. 4-Dec. 25.

Homewood by Candlelight. 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Dec. 9. Musical entertainment by David Hildebrand. $5-$6.

House tours. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Noon-4 p.m. Sunday. Last tour 3:30 p.m. Cost $3-$6.

Ladew Topiary Gardens

3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, 410-557-9466.

The theme for this year’s holiday celebration at Ladew is “Christmas Around the World.” Interior decorators, floral designers and members of Baltimore-area garden clubs will take their inspiration from the extensive world travels of Harvey Ladew, whose estate is the site of the gardens.

Ladew, who died in 1976, visited nearly all of Europe, as well as many Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Ladew also was an avid huntsman, artist and gardener, and his home reflects those interests. He spent years designing and implementing an extensive topiary garden as well as other gardens where 22 acres of farm fields had once stood.

Decorators will use fresh greens, flowers, fruit and other items to dress up the Ladew Manor House for its annual three-day holiday celebration. Fires will be lighted, candles will flicker and musicians will perform in the drawing room.

A variety of greens will be sold, including kissing balls and topiaries. The Ladew Cafe will offer lunch and other refreshments.

Holiday events

Decorations displayed Dec. 6-8.

Holiday open house, tour and greens sale. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 6-8. Santa Claus will visit for a short time Dec. 7-8. Free for members, $2-$8 for all others.


502 W. Gordon St., Bel Air, 410-838-3942.

Built in 1898 to appease a young bride’s yearning for her European home, Liriodendron is modeled on the Palladian villas of 19th-century Prussia.

Owner Howard Kelly, a surgeon and one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Medical College, brought his wife and their nine children to Liriodendron every summer so that they could escape the sweltering heat of Baltimore.

Today, Liriodendron is operated by a nonprofit association. Executive director Dorothy Francis says the “free-spirited” group that handles seasonal decorations has yet to decide on a holiday theme.

Traditionally, however, the home is decked with fresh greens and other period items. This is also the year for Liriodendron’s biennial exhibit of doll houses and miniatures, always popular with visitors.

Holiday events

Decorations displayed Dec. 2-15.

Doll-house and miniature exhibit. 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 15. Free with admission donation.

Concert. Featuring Musica Antiqua -- performers in period costumes play old-fashioned parlor music on period instruments. 1 p.m. Dec. 1. Free with admission donation.

House tours. 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Sundays. $1 donation per person.

Historic London Town and Gardens

839 Londontown Road, Edgewater, 410-222-1919.

London Town was already on its way to extinction when William Brown decided to build this huge Georgian mansion overlooking the South River. Completed in 1764, the home is one of only two surviving buildings in the now-defunct Colonial village.

Brown, a cabinetmaker, tavern owner, innkeeper and ferry operator, lost his grand estate less than 20 years after he built it because of personal debt.

In 1828, the Anne Arundel County government purchased London Town and used it as the county almshouse until 1965. It became part of the Anne Arundel County parks system in the 1970s.

In keeping with London Town’s Colonial origin, holiday decorations are limited to simple greens. There are no Christmas trees. This year, however, the house will be filled with a display of antique dolls and doll furniture.

London Town’s annual holiday teas are sold out already, but visitors still will have the opportunity to tour the house and take part in an event related to the doll exhibit.

Holiday events

Decorations on display Dec. 9-31.

Wreath workshop. Make your own holiday wreath. 10 a.m.-noon Dec. 7. $20.

Antique doll exhibit. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Noon-2 p.m. Sundays. Dec. 9-31. $4.

Lecture and tour. “Let’s Talk Dolls” by Stuart Holbrook, president of Theriault’s, an internationally known Annapolis auction house. 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 11. $12.

House tours. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Noon-3 p.m. Sundays. $2-$4. Free if you bring a canned good Dec. 26-31.

Mount Clare Museum House

1500 Washington Blvd., 410-837-3262.

Two centuries of holiday traditions will be showcased at Mount Clare.

Formerly home to Charles Carroll the Barrister and his heirs, Mount Clare contains many period furnishings that are original to its owners.

The holiday display includes an ornate (circa 1760) gown believed to have been worn by Margaret Tilghman Carroll when she went to a birthday tea in London honoring Queen Charlotte of England.

Holiday decorations center on greens, holly, wreaths and fruit.

Holiday events

Decorations are displayed Dec. 3-31.

House tours. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $1 admission Dec. 14-15. Admission all other times $3-$6.

Historic Oakland

5430 Vantage Point Road, Columbia, 410-730-4801.

Charles Sterrett Ridgely, a former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, built Oakland in 1811 as a country home.

The house, which features elements of Federal, Greek Revival and Colonial Revival architecture, passed through several owners before the Rouse Co. acquired it in 1965. Today, it is owned and operated by the Columbia Association.

Restored with antique and reproduction pieces to its original Federal style, the house includes a vast ballroom as well as a cozy library.

The simple holiday decorations include fresh greens and ornamental greens.

Holiday events

Decorations displayed Dec. 5, 10 and 12.

Afternoon tea. Two-course tea. Local artisans will sell their works at the event. 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 5, 10 and 12. $12.60. Reservations required.

William Paca House

186 Prince George St., Annapolis 410-267-7619.

Dating to 1763, this 18th-century town home was built for William Paca, a young planter who signed the Declaration of Independence. Restored to its 18th-century heyday, the home features an extensive collection of antique furniture, silver and decorative arts.

This year’s holiday decorations at Paca House are inspired by the Historic Annapolis Foundation’s golden (50th) anniversary. Lemons, gold ribbons and a nightly illumination, which casts a golden light on the home’s exterior, are highlights of the celebration.

Visitors will learn how gold, parties and traditions associated with light helped boost Colonial spirits on long winter nights.

Holiday events

Decorations displayed Dec. 7-31.

Wreath-making workshop. 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 7. Also, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 13. $30-$35. Reservations required.

Music and candlelight at the Paca House. Tour the home as it would have appeared when William and Mary Paca entertained during 18th-century winters. 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Dec. 7. Free with admission to house.

Gift-making workshop for kids. Participants will make golden nut ornaments, tinsel stars, lemon pomanders and decorative goodie bags. Noon-4 p.m. Dec. 15. $6.50-$8. Reservations required.

House tours. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 31. $5-$8 per person, $25 for a family of four, age 5 and under free.

Historic Waverly

2300 Waverly Mansion Drive, Marriottsville, 410-313-5400.

This historic home to two former governors of Maryland (John Eager Howard and his son George) is a 2 1/2-story “hyphenated” house. One part was built in 1764, the other in 1811. They are connected by a hallway.

Seasonal decorations by area garden clubs reflect both of these periods. The focus of the decorations is on greens and fruit.

Holiday events

Decorations displayed Dec. 9-Jan. 1, depending on durability of fresh materials.

Candlelight tour. 10 a.m.-noon and 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Dec. 9. $1-$3.

House tours. 9 a.m.-noon Monday through Friday. All visitors must make an appointment. $1-$3.