St. Anne’s Hill Historic Holiday Home Tour

Photo: Homes on High Street are festively decorated for the Home Tours this upcoming weekend.

By Brennan Burks

I recently became a father. In the number of ways that this new identity has turned my world upside down, one existential change I did not entirely anticipate is my newfound need to establish traditions for our expanded family of three.

Our first new tradition was to hand out candy to the cute, trick-or-treating kiddos on Halloween (we also just bought our first house, that comes fully stocked with expectant neighbors—this is a year of firsts to be sure). The evening was cold, a bit drizzly, and, I’m told by said expectant neighbors, not as packed with costumed children as in previous years. Nevertheless, sitting on our new front step with our newborn vampire, handing out candy to Ironman, Batman, the blonde Frozen princess, and Barb from Stranger Things, was a nice start to our new tradition making.

With that said, and with Walt Grizzwald’s successes and follies looming always in the back of my head, over the past couple of weeks I’ve been contemplating ways that our little unit can memorably celebrate the upcoming holiday season, and set it motion a few traditions worth carrying on. We have a couple of options from seasons’ past that are vying to make their mark: a visit to Ohio’s tallest Christmas Tree in Carrillon Park; a trip to one of the many Christmas Tree farms in the Miami Valley to select, cut and haul home our own festive pine; a drive out east to see the famous lights of the Clifton Mill; or a night at the Victoria Theatre to warm our spirits with A Christmas Carol. While we have yet to decide what shall become of our holiday memories, we have just added one more contender to the list, and perhaps you should too: St. Anne’s Hill Historic Holiday Home Tour from Dec. 8-10.

Started in 1989, this event has been bringing Daytonians to one of the city’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods with festive flair for decades. As most of the homes were built between 1830-1880, they are primarily situated in the architectural era of the Victorians. Accordingly, a prominent feature of the tour has been the Dickinsenian dressed guides that lead visitors along wintry lamp-lighted streets and into warm homes to experience the history, decor, and wonder waiting behind each door.

This wonder, says Susan Gray, president of the St. Anne’s Hill Historic District, has largely come from outsiders curious about what kind of people would actually choose to live both in these gigantic old homes and in the questionable downtown. “People have no problem coming downtown to eat or enjoy its other entertainments,” Gray says, “but to live down here, especially over the past couple of decades, has really puzzled them.”

The tour itself (all 39 of them), starting at the High Street Gallery, stopping at eight private homes—all with different shapes, sizes, and historical significance—and ending at the Bossler Mansion (also a private residence, but opened every year to the public for this event), lasts around two-and-a-half hours. In function, it is a fundraiser for the neighborhood to help refurbish businesses, clean up and build new parks, fund art projects (there will soon be a large mural at the intersection of Kiwii Street and 35, paid for by the proceeds from this event), and to promote neighborliness through seasonal social events. In form, it is a step inside a living, breathing historical Gem City neighborhood.

“We’ve had over 1,000 people come each of the past few years,” Gray says, “and one of the reasons that word continues to spread and we continue to attract more than three times the people that actually live here is that we aren’t static, we’re not a history museum where things are curated and kept the same.” She says that each home offers its own unique history as part of the neighborhood and the architecture, but it also offers the warm welcome from the people who live within.

The decorations and styling of each home along the tour is entirely at the discretion of each resident. However, every family and homeowner has one abundantly clear trait in common, and it’s perhaps the one thing that keeps bringing people back to St. Anne’s as part of their holiday traditions. “For all of the history in our district and the unique homes and buildings that line our streets, our sense of pride in our community and our welcoming nature to everyone who visits is probably the unifying characteristic of all the residents,” Gray says, “and I know people come to see the old homes and the old costumes, but they keep coming back for the people, for the community spirit.”

Some of the visitors in years past, Gray knows of three off the top of her head, chose to move to St. Anne’s after taking the tour. “It’s that inviting,” she says. While she admits that not everyone who takes the tour will be browsing Zillow the next day, she does hope that people will consider making the trip to her little historic corner of the city part of their holiday traditions, just as the history of St. Anne’s has been an essential part of Dayton for generations.

As for my family and it’s pending traditions, Susan just made our decision that much harder. So it looks like we might have to try them all (hopefully minus the life-threatening road rage when we bring home the family tree).

The St. Anne’s Hill Historic Holiday Home Tour will take place on Dec. 8-10 in Dayton. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.Dayton.com/Events

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Brennan Burks
Reach DCP freelance writer Brennan Burks at BrennanBurks@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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