Each year I try to find something Christmas-y to do each weekend of Advent. One of the things I have been hoping to do since we moved to Marietta was go on their yearly Pilgrimage of Historic Homes. Each year they pick out six homes which range from the mid-1800s to the late 1920s, the homes are decked out with Christmas decorations, and then tours are let in the first weekend of December. Other years I've either forgotten to get the tickets on time or just didn't feel like going, like last year.
Friday I managed to make it by the Marietta Welcome Center to pick up two tickets. Along with the six homes, all the public buildings associated with the historic society are open, including the Marlow House, which is now a bed and breakfast/functions site and the Root House, which we pass almost weekly going up to Barrett Parkway, circa the 1840s.
So today was the day: we parked the car and boarded our school bus shuttle that would take us up to the Cherokee and Church Streets neighborhood, which is fairly well-to-do, with homes in the $500,000+ range in general.
Our first stop was the Montgomery House, which was the oldest of the homes, built in 1847. It had been remodeled in the 1920s and a second story added (and then recently updated), so it no longer looked like any type of "frontier" house. At one time it was owned by the first female attorney in Cobb County. The house was remodeled within the last ten years, and the kitchen was completely redone (very much James' dream kitchen, with lots of room and an island). The unusual thing was that the house had two kitchens, the new remodeled one and an older kitchen in a separate room which reminded me very much of the kitchens in the triple-deckers some of my relatives had, beadboard cupboards and all. This was the least holiday-decorated because the house is for sale.
As we emerged from the house, there was a blue 1949 Chevrolet pickup truck just out the door. It had three owners and only 130,000 miles on it. The man who owned the house had not reconstructed it, but just reconditioned it a little. As we were standing there admiring it, a man bounced up and said eagerly, "Would you like to see the engine?" and popped open the hood; very plain and simple as these original engines were and clean as a whistle! Turned out it was the owner.
The next house was the Neel Reed-Brumby House (Reed was the architect). It had a side porch and also a garden that were reached by French doors that were made to look like windows. This also had a big remodeled kitchen. Christmas touches were everywhere in this house, and the Christmas tree on the sun porch had two different size LED light strings. The side garden was called the Charleston Garden and had stone paving with a fountain.
The third house we saw, the Latimer-Hill-Register House, was the one we both thought was the most comfortable-looking. They had some antique things, but nothing that was too pretentious. It had at one time been owned by the mother of Virginia Hill, who was gangster "Bugsy" Seigel's mistress; Hill paid $11,000 for the house in the 1930s, and paid for it in cash with $100 bills! The present owners had taken the back of the house off and a second story was added as well. This had a big open kitchen with a grill/stovetop and other neat things. The Christmas trees here had themes and the one in the guest room (and the guest room itself) were decorated with black and white Scotties (mostly belonging to the owner's mother), and another in the kitchen was just Christmas pickles. Upstairs there was a Grinch tree, which the docent said was a recent collection the family had started.
Outside the home where there had once been a front door (the steps are still there but they lead to nothing), there was a small pond. We counted one...two...three koi in the pond. Ohmygosh, "three little fishies in an itty-bitty pool"!
The Northcutt-Shilling-Fazzio House was decorated in a more eclectic style. For instance, on the porch they had the frame of an old sofano upholstery or stuffing, just the wood frameworkwound with Christmas greens. There was a piano in the foyer and a tree in the big den off the kitchen decorated with old picture frames. A tiny little office was just off the stairs and just off that a tiny little laundry room where the owners had strung C-9 lights and then clothespinned old underwear to the "clothesline." The back porch had a big tree decorated with old toys and four huge artificial bells in red and white.
The Northcutt-Whitaker-Gillis House is on Church Street. When James and I come home from supper at Sweet Tomatoes/a trip to JoAnn/visit to the Borders at Kennesaw we usually drive by Church Street and there are several large houses that I love. Well, it turned out this home was the one that was my favorite, a big square house with a big front and side porch and a pool house in the back, painted grey with burgundy and hunter green trim.
It is just as lovely inside. The owners have enlarged and restored it. It has front and back stairs, beautiful hardwood floors, enclosed porches, and wonderful decorations. This had a tree in each room including a lovely feather tree as tall as me decorated with acorns and cross-stitch ornaments that a family friend has made over the years for the owners' children. A big glass curio cabinet contains little doll-like figures from Germany. On the wall upstairs after you climb the stairs, 25 years' worth of the children's pictures with Santa are displayed.
The funniest thing was in the remodeled kitchen, which is beautiful without being pretentious. There was a photo on the counter of the kitchen before it was remodeled; the owners had entered the room in a Good Housekeeping "ugliest kitchen in the United States" contest in which the prize was a remodeling and had thought they had won, but they only got a cash prize, which they used to start a remodel. Boy, was it ugly; as the docent commented, "I'd hate to see the kitchen that won!"
The last house, Red Door Cottage, took us the longest to get in. It was small, the line was long, and they only allowed about ten people at the time in. This was pocket-sized, with small lovely rooms with antiques, trees and bowls and wreaths of antique ornaments, paintings done by the owner's father (quite a watercolor artist!), and yet another butler's pantry (almost all of these houses had butler's pantries). A small room at the back of the house had been added in the 1940s and the owner uses this as her office; the bulletin board she uses is made of the original front door from the house!
Just slightly (LOL) footsore (we'd been walking for over two hours at this point), we rode the bus back to the Marlow House. This was originally a boarding house and now is a Bed & Breakfast and is also used for functions like showers, etc. You could see the rooms upstairs (long steep stairs!), but the third floor was closed off. Downstairs was open and they were serving sandwiches and drinks and selling gifts.
Finally we went to the Root House. Again, we have often passed the Root House on our way somewhere, as it is on the main road. It was built by the first pharmacist in Marietta, but not at the location it is now. It was "turned" once on its previous lot and then moved out to its present position in 1990. This house has been "brought back" to what it looked like in 1850 and is decorated for a simple Christmas with a small cedar tree with candles and homemade ornaments in the parlor "best room." The north room, across the hall, was the family chamber; they had furniture on casters so they could eat and even sleep in the room. There was a room in the back which had the history of the family and relics dug from the original site and also sold some books on cookery and history of the area. Upstairs was the family bedroom, and we do mean family: Mom, dad, and six kids slept upstairs all in one room (grandma slept downstairs with the new baby because it was warmer down there). The house has young ladies as docents in the different rooms and they give quite a different speal from the usual older guides in historic houses. The young lady in the bedroom was quite funny talking about keeping clean, discouraging bugsapparently bedbugs don't like chinaberry berries or lavenderand getting dressed in 1850.
I thought something was quite funny: in the parlor and the north room, they had some of what I thought was hideous pink and blue on white, "60s-looking" flowered wallpaper. I wondered at the garish color scheme until the young lady in the north room showed us the wall where they show you how the wallpaper was put on. Boards were just hammered on the wall lengthwise, plain rough boards. This was covered by muslin tacked on. Then the wallpaper was applied to the muslin. She showed us a board of the original wallpaper and darned if, under all that yellowing and water staining, there was that bright pink-and-blue-on-white flower pattern!
The kitchen, as was common with most old Southern homes (I think old homes period to some extent, but particularly in the South, where you didn't have to tramp across snow during the winter to get to the kitchen), was a separate building, so if the kitchen caught fire from the cooking, the whole house didn't go up with it. They have a wood stove in there and bake in it, and we were able to sample gingerbread boys that were cooked in the wood stove, just like Polly Pepper might have baked in the old stove at the Little Brown House!
We also got to sample beaten biscuits, baked in the same stove, which I have read about in old booksthey pop up a lot in St. Nicholas storiesbut had never seen. They were only made for special visitors in the old days because after you mixed the biscuit dough, you had to beat it with a mallet 300 times! (500 times if the company was very special!) In the kitchen was a "labor-saving" gadget for making beaten biscuits; it looked like an old-fashioned washer wringer and you only had to run the dough through it one hundred times! Then you cut them out with a cutter or glass about the size of a quarter and baked them.
They were actually quite good, tasting like a biscuit but denser with a tiny crunch, although they look a lot like a Vermont common cracker, which are crunchy and not biscuity. (The docent told us that it's easy to make them today; you just toss the dough in a Cuisinart for two minutes! I bet those ladies of 1850 would have loved that!)
So we walked back to the truck, having intended to go to the museum, which was also included in the price of the tour, but it was 3:40 p.m. and the museum would close in 20 minutes. Oh, well. Great tour!
Read more about the tour and the homes at The Marietta Pilgrimage - A Christmas Home Tour.