Festive garlands, scented wreaths, and fresh flowers will adorn the historic houses of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park during the eagerly anticipated 30th annual Yuletide Tours scheduled for Friday, December 6 through Wednesday, December 11, 2002. Presented by the Park House Guides of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and building on the theme this year of Mansions and Merriment, the tours spotlight seven of the Park’s most famous 18th- and early 19th-century homes expertly decorated by garden clubs, floral designers, and school groups.
"It’s breathtaking to see these extraordinary houses all dressed up for the holidays, and to imagine the lives of the original families who built them back when history was being made here and Philadelphia stood at the epicenter of the American colonies," said Ann Bagley, Park House Guide and Chair of the 2002 Yuletide Tours Committee. "The Yuletide Tours are a joyous collaboration of countless people, whose dedication to the houses shines through during the tours. It’s a great way to enjoy the holiday season while finding a remarkable connection to the past."
The Yuletide Tours are a collective effort of the Museum’s Park House Guides, civic groups that administer a number of the houses, gardening organizations from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, an adult care facility, and two Philadelphia schools. All of them volunteer their time, skills, and materials to prepare decorations. Proceeds benefit the Museum and the Fairmount Park houses.
Linda Miller, Activities Coordinator for Bancroft Neuro-Health in Haddonfield, New Jersey notes that by participating in the preparations for the annual holiday tours older adults with disabilities find an engaging and stimulating outlet for their creativity. "Twenty members of the Bancroft Adult Garden Therapy group are looking forward to sharing their talents through the Yuletide Tours. We’re already gathering materials, designing gingerbread houses, and drying herbs and greens right from our own gardens."
Mansions and Merriment will display the handiwork of many children, including a group of 2nd through 5th graders from George C. Clymer Elementary School. "George Clymer actually lived in Woodford, one of the houses on the tours, and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, so the decorating activities provide a perfect opportunity for our students to learn about his influence in shaping the history of Philadelphia," said Alice Katchen, Small Learning Community Coordinator (SLCC) for George C. Clymer Elementary School. "This year, children with special needs will be preparing the decorations. These kids work at many different academic levels, but when creating art they are all able to work seamlessly together as a team."
Every year, a new set of whimsical themes inspires the volunteers who decorate the homes. Mansions and Merriment presents:
- A Warm Family Welcome at Cedar Grove, a summer home for five generations of Quaker women, which showcases an extensive collection of original family decorative arts and furnishings. Decorated by Greater Woodbury Garden Club.
- Simple Pleasures at Laurel Hill, a Middle Georgian house from which visitors experience panoramic views of the Schuylkill River. Decorated by Bonnie’s Wondergardens, Cedar Grove Kitchen Gardeners, Chestnut Hill Garden Club, and Women for Greater Philadelphia.
- Elegant Entertaining at Lemon Hill, a grand Neoclassical villa, which features oval-shaped rooms with curved doors and fireplaces on each of its of three levels. Decorated by Colonial Dames of America-Chapter II, Delton Designs, Junior League Sustainers, Medford Lakes Garden Club, Philadelphia Children’s School, TLC Interiors of Mount Holly, and The Weeders.
- Magical Moments at Mount Pleasant, the commanding mansion often praised as the most architecturally significant among the 18th-century houses of Fairmount Park. Decorated by Bancroft Adult Garden Therapy, The Country Garden Club of Mount Laurel, Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, Flowers and Fleurs, The Gardeners, Moorestown Garden Club, Merchantville Garden Club, Pinelands Orchid Society, and Ray Shaffer Designs.
- Country Celebrations at Strawberry Mansion, the largest of the Park houses with an attic full of antique dolls and toys. Decorated by Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, The Garden Club of Springfield, The Garden Workers, Mill Creek Valley Garden Club, Pinelands Garden Club of Medford, and Ray Shaffer Designs.
- Music of the Season at Sweetbriar, a Neoclassical year-round residence, which entertained such famed guests as the French General Marquis de Lafayette who fought alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Decorated by Floricopia, Glen Woods Garden Club, Penn Valley Garden Club, and Stems and Petals of Penn Valley.
- Treasures and Traditions at Woodford, whose original owner, the merchant William Coleman, was a close confidant of Benjamin Franklin. Decorated by Ganley’s Flowers of Abington, The Garden Club of Bala Cynwyd, George C. Clymer Elementary School, Kenny’s Flower Shop of Media, and Mount Holly Garden Club.
The houses are open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. for the week of the Yuletide Tours. Visitors may enjoy their own scenic trip to the sites within a 10-minute drive of each other. Daytime admission tickets for self-drive tours are $20 for adults and $6 for children under 12, and can be purchased at the Museum, the Horticulture Center, or Lemon Hill. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Museum or by calling (215) 235-SHOW. Visitors may take a trolley tour departing from Philadelphia’s Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park West (I-76 to Montgomery Drive Exit, travel west; the Horticulture Center is on North Horticultural Drive, the first road on the left). Transformed into a Winter Wonderland of holiday greens and gift boutiques, the Horticulture Center features a café open for lunch during the tours. Trolley tours are $28 and can be purchased at the Museum, the Horticulture Center, or on the trolley. Tickets for trolley tours are valid for date of purchase only. Free parking is available at the houses and at the Horticulture Center.
Candlelight Evenings on December 6, 7, and 8, offer the special ambiance of a visit to the historic houses dimly lighted as they would have been on a winter’s night during the 18th and 19th centuries. Candlelight Evenings begin with a buffet dinner at the Museum featuring selections of grilled and roasted vegetables, meats and fish, salads, breads, cheeses, and a wine tasting. After dining at 5:00 p.m. or 6:30 p.m., guests travel with a Park House Guide by trolley to three of the houses. Tickets are $60 and reservations are required.