St. Anne’s Hill puts history on display
For many, the holiday season ignites a certain appreciation for days gone by. Maybe it’s the old carols, maybe grandma’s homemade pie or the classic holiday movies that harken us back to yesteryear.
For residents living in St. Anne’s Hill, Dayton’s second-oldest historic district flanked by winding streets and old Victorian homes, there are parts of every day that must feel like yesteryear. This year, the historic neighborhood invites everyone to come experience the holidays in classic Victorian style.
“Dickens of a Christmas Tour,” St. Anne’s Hill’s biennial home tour, is a three-day event that features historic Victorian homes decorated for the holidays, and tours guided by volunteers in period costumes. The event takes place December 13, 14 and 15, with tours running every half hour.
It begins at the High Street Gallery, home of Dayton Painters and Sculptors. Over the next two-and-a-half hours, tour groups are guided along the neighborhood streets, stopping at several historic homes decorated for the season.
“We have a lot of repeat customers,” Tour Chairman Susan Gray said. “We rotate the houses in and out to try to make it interesting each time.”
Those repeat customers come for seasonal sights and a significant bit of history.
“One year when I was guiding a tour, we were walking down the street, and [people who had been on a tour before] asked me to stop and tell about this house,” Gray said. “They had learned about the house and wanted me to tell everyone the story.”
The tours end at the Bossler Mansion, a large neighborhood landmark, where guests are served a dessert of Victorian bread pudding and cider. The mansion also houses a gift shop, open during the tour only, which sells handmade items made by residents and friends of St. Anne’s Hill.
For some, the tour is a way to showcase neighborhood living in an urban environment.
“People that come on our tours like to see the architecture, like to see the decorations,” Gray said. “But they are also interested in what kinds of people want to live in a downtown neighborhood, and how you can make a modern life out of an old-time neighborhood.”
Karen Kelly and her family will be displaying her house for the first time this year.
“St. Anne’s Hill truly epitomizes the definition of ‘neighborhood,’” Kelly said. “Our home is lovely and we adore it! It has all original woodwork; it has wonderful character and even a friendly ghost or two.”
Ghosts or not, one thing is certain: if these walls could talk, they’d tell quite a story. And through “Dickens of a Christmas Tour,” guests not only get a chance to see how life can be, but also how it must have been.
“When you take on an historical home, I think you have a responsibility as a trustee, not only to the house but to an idea of what we all imagine life was like back then,” homeowner Charlene Thatcher said.
And what better “back then” to imagine than an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas?
“I think the Christmas Tour is the best time frame to showcase the fantasy of all our Christmas dreams,” Thatcher said.
With candles ablaze and silver bells tinkling, “Dickens of a Christmas Tour” takes a page out of Christmases past. It’s a far cry from the bustle of busy shoppers; quite removed from “Jingle Bell Rock.” But St. Anne’s Hill has made a name for itself by keeping tradition alive in a modern time – and why should Christmas be any different?
“Everybody has this idealized view of what a Victorian Christmas should be,” Gray said. “It’s old-timey, the houses are done up with gingerbread and the decorations are over the top, it really hits home for a lot of people.”
Over the event’s three days, tour guides, homeowners and community supporters give over 300 volunteer hours – and with good reason. “Dickens of a Christmas Tour” is the neighborhood’s main fundraiser and supplies most of the neighborhood’s operating budget for a two-year period.
It’s also good publicity.
“We’re here, we’re doing great things, come be a part of it,” Gray said. “We’ve had people who have gone on tours and have come back and bought houses. They’re good neighbors who are involved and who want to be involved. It’s a really special community out here.”
The tour staff expects to sell out of tickets – most of Friday’s slots are already sold out. Gray urges those interested in the tour to purchase tickets ahead of time.
St. Anne’s Hill’s “Dickens of a Christmas Tour” takes place Dec. 13, 14 and 15 and begins at High Street Gallery, 48 High St. For tickets and more information, please call 934.224.HILL (4455) or visit stanneshill.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.