The halls of Ballestone-Stansbury House are all decked out for the holidays, and now is your chance to enjoy decor from yesteryear at the annual Holly Tour. Take in an “Old-Fashioned Christmas” with the authentically decorated rooms and parlors at the mansion, which is located adjacent to Rocky Point Golf Course in Essex. Tours will be held the first and second weekends in December.
The Holly Tour has become a tradition for many Eastern Baltimore County families, especially the family of Cas Groth, president of the Ballestone Preservation Society for more than 20 years. Each year, she and her cousin, curator and exhibit director Michael Bosse, her daughter Colleen Baugher, and several other family members, friends and volunteers spend countless hours readying the house for the hundreds of visitors that come through.
Bosse has worked tirelessly on the upstairs focal point, a modern interpretation of the German Putz garden, which is similar to a Christmas village.
“The Putz gardens consisted of mostly handmade items and smaller versions of things such as tiny toys and animals,” said Bosse. “They are often incorporated under Christmas trees along with the crèche or nativity scenes.”
In the 20th Century, Putz gardens morphed into train gardens in the U.S. Bosse’s version will reflect his vision of the North Pole. “There will be bits and pieces of all different things that are special to me, and some things that are tongue in cheek,” he said. “It’s a fantasyland of whatever. Lots of handmade items from my personal collection and lots of items I bought and modified.”
This includes constellations, the Grinch, scenes from modern movies and books, Beatrix Potter characters, fairy houses and even a Yellow Brick Road. Bosse, who by day works for Northrop Grumman, enjoys the creative outlet that holiday decorating offers.
“One thing that is consistent is that we decorate differently every year,” he said. “We always have new ideas. This is meant to be beautiful and educational. This is not a ‘mall Christmas.’”
The tours have been held every year since 1977. According to Groth, the first portion of the house was built by the Stansbury family in 1780. The house underwent numerous additions and modifications over the next 100 years. The Ballestone Preservation Society has furnished and decorated the house to represent all three periods that span those years. These are the Federal period (1780-1810), the Empire period (1810-1850) and the Victorian period (1850-1880).
They purchased the furniture – mostly antiques with some reproduction pieces – and decor through money from various fundraisers throughout the year. Along with the Holly Tour, a tea luncheon, summer tours and a Civil War reenactment round out the event schedule.
Groth became interested in the Ballestone-Stansbury House when she was a young girl. Her parents rented a shore home in the neighborhood each summer, and she often came to visit the girls who lived there. The last time a family occupied the house was in the 1960s. Baltimore County purchased the house in 1969 and still maintains the outside of the house, while the preservation society volunteers take care of the inside.
The dining parlor features special occasion dishes, glasses and serving sets. In Bosse’s research based on information from letter and journals, Victorian photographs and decorating guide books, there were typically no holiday decorations in the dining parlors.
The bedroom features Empire period wallpaper and bed coverings. The colors and patterns are exact reproductions from the period. There is also a wood stove and a grass rug nailed to the floor. A table and chairs are set for tea with period china and real silverware.
A child’s room, decorated in 1850s-style, features period dolls, games and toys, along with Christmas decorations and stockings. Several of the antique dolls were donated by local families.
The most elegant room is the Victorian parlor with a beautiful Christmas tree and antique furniture – some with its original velour upholstery. The Victorian rooms use lanterns, while rooms from the other periods use candles for light.
After viewing the main house, guests will head to the separate kitchen building, which is a reproduction building constructed in 1981 through funds from Project Open Space. In addition to the 1850s-style kitchen, the building houses the preservation society’s office, a small kitchen for making refreshments and restrooms.
After the tour, guests can gather around the hearth and enjoy homemade treats and cider. There will also be homemade bread and other baked goods for sale.
Ballestone-Stansbury House Holly Tours
1935 Back River Neck Rd
Open 5 to 8 p.m. on Sat., Dec. 7 & 14 and 2 to 8 p.m. on Sun. Dec. 8 & 15.
Donations are $5 for adults and $1 for children under 12. For more information, please call 410-887-0218.