Holly, history, and holiday traditions. For 21 years, Harrodsburg has handpicked several houses, decked their halls, and welcomed perfect strangers to come in and get some Christmas spirit.
“The first Saturday in December has become a time for many locals to reunite with friends and family for the Holiday Homes Tour,” says Helen Dedman, who coordinates the tour with Jerry Sampson. “We also have guests from other states who look forward to this weekend and spend the night to kick off their holiday season.”
Holiday home tours are as much a part of Christmas traditions as writing to Santa Claus and hanging stockings by the chimney. In towns all over the state, Kentuckians are opening their wreath-embellished doors and ushering visitors in to see their decorated homes for the holidays.
In the early days, Harrodsburg’s Holiday Homes Tour showcased as many as 10 houses plus a church. Mercer County is blessed with both a number of examples of early architecture, including log cabins, and homeowners willing to decorate and open them to the public. Newer homes have since been added to the mix and, while the number of homes has been trimmed, the tour remains a much-loved and highly anticipated Harrodsburg tradition.
“This tour is beloved by not only locals but by people hundreds of miles away,” says Jerry Sampson, president of the Harrodsburg Historical Society, which sponsors the tour. “Plus, we have such beautiful, historic homes.”
This year’s tour on Saturday, December 1, features six houses and one church, including Forest Pillars, which dates back to as early as 1820 when portions of the house were originally built. Expect to see everything from decorations recalling Kentucky’s pioneer past to over-the-top Victorian embellishments to contemporary motifs.
Regardless of the holiday decorating scheme, a festive air reigns in the individual houses and throughout town, with shops dressed for the season and three hometown parades planned for the weekend–Friday evening, November 30, 6:30 p.m., down Main Street in Harrodsburg; Saturday morning in nearby Salvisa; and Saturday evening in nearby Burgin.
The Christmas Tea Room, opened each year to coincide with the tour and operated by the Harrodsburg Historical Society, is also part of the tradition. Located at historic Morgan Row, this former tavern now houses the Historical Society, Harrodsburg Research Library, and exhibit space displaying portraits and artifacts hailing from Harrodsburg’s past. On the menu: chicken salad, pimento cheese and ham and olive nut sandwiches, chili and vegetable soup, an assortment of desserts, and spiced hot tea, lemonade, and coffee.
Harrodsburg’s neighbor to the northwest, Bardstown, hosts two Christmas home tours. Federal Hill remains true to its antebellum roots during the My Old Kentucky Home Candlelight Tours, which began the weekend of November 23 and run for the next two consecutive weekends. Tour guides in period costumes, scads of glowing candles, and bourbon barrel cake and hot cider add to the fun.
On December 8, Bardstown’s Christmas Tour of Homes gets under way, with privately owned homes, both old and new, decorated for the holidays and including the candlelight tour at My Old Kentucky Home. Refreshments are served at selected homes.
Bowling Green also hosts two tours: the Landmark Association presents its Christmas Historic Home Tour on December 1 and the Bowling Green Woman’s Club hosts its 18th Annual Holiday Home Tour on December 8-9. This year’s tour shows off six homes, including Spongie Acres Bed and Breakfast, a newly opened six-guestroom inn that sits on 14 acres of countryside just three miles from Bowling Green’s main road.
“We usually put up five Christmas trees a year anyway, but may add more this year,” says innkeeper Juannie Kronenberger, whose nickname “Spongie” inspired the inn’s moniker. “There are snowman, angel, and America the Beautiful trees, among others, and a lot of the ornaments are homemade. I’m very proud of all the love that has gone into them.”
Stroll the country’s most extensive collection of Victorian mansions during the 36th Annual Old Louisville Holiday Home Tour on December 1-2. Nine homes in this National Historic District will be festooned in Old World holiday decor, and one of the homes, the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, will host a High Victorian Tea with savories and sweets reminiscent of holiday teas in the 19th century. Shuttles will run continuously to tour stops and a Holiday Gift Boutique will showcase unique craft items.
For the 40th year, the Woman’s Club of Madisonville will sponsor its Holiday Tour of Homes on December 2. Back in 1973, clubwomen made sequin wreath pins for hostesses to wear on the day of the tour and those wreath pins are still worn today. Five homes are included, including a former grocery store that has been converted to a house.
Find your Christmas spirit
Want some Christmas cheer? Need some holiday decorating ideas? Visit these homes all decked out.
My Old Kentucky Home Candlelight Tours, www.parks.ky.gov
(under Parks/Historic); (502) 348-3502 or (800) 323-7803; November 30-December 1 and December 7-8, 5:30-8:30 p.m.; $7 general, $5 seniors, $3.50 children ages 6-12, under 6 free.
Christmas Tour of Homes, (502) 348-4877, (800) 638-4877; Saturday, December 8,
2-9 p.m., $15.
Landmark Association Christmas Historic Home Tour, www.BGLandmark.org, (270) 791-5472; Saturday, December 1, 1-4 p.m., $10.
Bowling Green Woman’s Club Holiday Home Tour, (270) 563-3330; Saturday, December 8, 5-8 p.m., and Sunday, December 9, 1-5 p.m.; $12 in advance, $15 day of event.
Holiday Homes Tour, www.HarrodsburgHistorical.org, (859) 734-7829; Saturday, December 1, 1-8 p.m.; $15 general, $11 seniors, $11 groups of 20 or more (call ahead).
The Christmas Tea Room is open November 30, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and December 1, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Old Louisville Holiday Home Tour, www.OldLouisvilleHolidayHomeTour.org, (502) 635-5244, December 1-2, noon-6 p.m.; $25 day of tour, $20 in advance if purchased before 5 p.m. November 30.
High Victorian Tea, Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, (502) 636-5023, has seatings from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m., by reservation only; tickets $20 in advance, $25 day of tour.
The Woman’s Club of Madisonville Holiday Tour of Homes, www.VisitMadisonvilleKy.com, (877) 243-5280; Sunday, December 2, 1-5 p.m., $10. Tickets can be purchased the day of the tour at tour headquarters: Armstrong Coal Company, 407 Brown Road.
The Owensboro Symphony Alliance Annual Christmas Home Tour, featuring the theme “Christmas on the River,” and live music in each dwelling, www.TheOSO.com, (270) 684-0661; Saturday, December 8, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., $20.
The antebellum Whitehaven Welcome Center is annually decorated for the holidays by area garden clubs and offers free open house tours December 7-8, 2-6 p.m. Call for other tour dates and times.