Mansions, Music, and Merriment
The leaves are off the trees, the last of the fruits and vegetables have been harvested, and it’s time for holiday feasting and remembering. But at around this time of the year, twenty years ago, a group of friends who were passionate about Williamsport and its extraordinary Victorian architecture got together and planted the seed of an event. Gloria and Marcia Miele, Ted Lyon, and Nan Young had been hard at work for years restoring and preserving the old mansions along the city’s Millionaire’s Row. Over wine at the Herdic House, they planned a small event, during which a few of the houses could be open to the public. They wanted everybody to see the beauty they saw. Before they knew it, they had four houses for people to tour, a luncheon at Park Place, a carol sing, and a tree lighting. It was a success the very first year. Two decades later, what started as a simple afternoon event has become an annual weekend that ushers in the holiday season and draws people from far beyond Williamsport.
This year, the third weekend in November, Victorian Christmas welcomes some of our most beloved Christmas characters to weave a spell as they look at Christmas in Williamsport with the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Thad Meckley, local historian and the featured speaker at the YWCA on Friday, November 16, uses the Dickens characters as a metaphor for the city’s fortunes.
“Like the Christmas classic, Williamsport’s story is one of perseverance, hope, and rebirth that resonates today, possessing life and business lessons that are every bit as relevant as they were in Victorian England,” says Thad.
That’s not the only event on Friday in the block that houses both the YWCA and Park Place. There will be a tree lighting with Santa, and the opening of an artisan’s market. This is a juried show/market showcasing twenty juried artisans, most from north central Pennsylvania. Visitors will find an assortment of crafts and art including pottery, glass, jewelry, ornaments, soaps, pet portraits, pastels, fiber art, and handmade Santas with sculpted faces. The market will be open Friday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Uptown Music Collective joins in the celebration with two concerts on Friday and Saturday night at the Community Arts Center. More an a Feeling is a tribute to 1970s arena rock, featuring music made famous by Boston, Styx, Journey, Kansas and more.
But the star of Victorian Christmas is always the tours. This year, seven homes and seven churches have opened their doors to the public for tours on Saturday, November 17. The homes include three of the mansions on Millionaire’s Row (Fourth Street), all built before 1900, a 1917 Georgian-style house with a Mediterranean influence, two traditional Colonial-style homes from the 1920s, and one mid-century contemporary house built in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. All seven houses are filled with period architectural detail, and are rich with historical significance.
The churches are older structures in the downtown area, with several built before 1900, and replete with such architectural gems as Tiffany windows and regionally quarried stone and marble. All are steeped in the history of this area, with a few sitting on land donated by famous locals such as Peter Herdic. In addition, the Rowley House Museum, the Community Arts Center, the Genetti Hotel, the Scottish Rite, the James V. Brown Library, and the Old Corner Hotel are open for tours. Volunteers will be on hand to serve as guides, to highlight special points at each location, and to answer questions about these treasures.
For the younger set there are children’s activities at the YWCA, along with lunches and refreshments at several churches on the tour route, and a saxophone quartet at the Transportation Museum. The Williamsport Music Club will play throughout Saturday at the Park Place gazebo. The Loyalsock Middle School Student Works will present an exhibition inspired by the city’s historic district at the Hartshorn House. The Duboistown Garden Club has had its Holiday House event for fifty-five years, and has participated in Victorian Christmas for many of those. This year its Holidays in Candyland will be at Lycoming College’s Pennington Lounge and will be open both Saturday and Sunday.
For those who love the toy trains associated with the Christmas season, one of the weekend’s special events is the Will Huffman Toy Train Expo on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Toy trains are always on exhibit at the Taber Museum, but, for Victorian Christmas, most of this enormous train collection will also be displayed at the Herdic Transportation Museum behind the Taber, and at the Park Place next door.
One more event is slated for Sunday only. The art and antiques from the Park Home will be displayed at the Meadows on Warrensville Road. There, among the gracious items from the long history of the home as a retirement facility, there will be musical entertainment, refreshments, and tours.
From the Victorian past, and those buildings that have remained over the years, through to the art and industry of the present, this beloved holiday happening shines a kindly light on the future of both an event that brings so much pleasure, and the town where history is visible every day.
Tour tickets are twenty dollars and are on sale at eventbrite.com; at the Community Arts Center, 220 West Fourth Street; at the Historic Genetti Hotel & Suites, 200 West Fourth Street; and at the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau, 102 West Fourth Street, (800) 358-9900. On the day of the tour, tickets will be available at the Transportation Museum, 810 Nichols Place; at the various homes on the tour (see eventbrite.com or victorianchristmaspa.com for a listing); and at Lycoming County Visitors Bureau.