home offers glimpse
of 1860s-era Christmas decorations
CARROLLTON, Ky. (December 2002) The Butler-Turpin
State Historic House located at Gen. Butler State Resort Park invites
visitors during the holiday season to step back in time to the year
The historic residence will be decorated for the holidays with a patriotic
theme according to customs of the early 1860s, said Evelyn Welch, curator
of the home.
The Greek Revival-style dwelling, built in 1859, was the gathering place
of the Butler family, a celebrated military family with connections
and relations to the Lincoln, Todd and Jackson families. Welch said
that she was inspired to decorate the home with a Civil War period theme
after receiving a copy of the Gettysburg Address as a gift from her
The speech, Abraham Lincolns most famous, was presented
just prior to Christmas on Nov. 19, 1863. Welch said that she hopes
to capture the spirit of patriotism that was embodied by Americans during
Despite the shadow of conflict, most people still found reason to celebrate
Christmas during the Civil War years. According to the Herbert Hoover
Museum, An American Christmas exhibit during the 1860s helped
Americans on both sides of the war escape the grim realities of the
time with a focus on family togetherness and brotherly love. Although
quite different from the contemporary celebration, the Christmas holiday
was still a time of festivities when neighbors and families would gather
The Christmas tree tradition became even more popular during the 1860s.
Trees were often decorated with strings of holly berries, paper flowers,
strings of beads and ribbons.
Neighborhood tree trimming parties were popular, and entire communities
would often gather for a party and gift exchange.
The precursor to modern Christmas tree lights, candles were attached
to trees with wires to create a festive glow. By the end of the decade,
a special counterbalanced candle holder was invented. This made the
practice of lighting a tree less hazardous. Despite lighting improvements,
most families still kept a bucket of water close by in case of a fire.
It was also during the later part of the decade that the smaller tabletop
tree was replaced with a full-sized tree, a status symbol of the time.
Another Christmas symbol, the modern day Santa Claus, materialized,
thanks to famed cartoonist Thomas Nast. Nast patterned his drawings
after the description of Santa in Clement C. Moores Twas
the Night Before Christmas and was among the first to sketch a
round and jolly Santa attired in a red suit with fur trim.
The Butler-Turpin home will be decorated as authentically as possible
to represent traditions of the time, said Welch. A larger version of
the tabletop tree will be featured in the home as well as plenty of
greenery. Welch said she hopes to duplicate materials used during the
period, which were simplistic in nature, such as holly, cedar, magnolia
leaves and evergreen boughs. The latter were commonly placed around
doorways and on mantles.
The Butler-Turpin State Historic House will be open for special
Christmas tours through Dec. 15 and Christmas teas from Dec. 1-13. Times
for the teas are from noon until 1:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and
Wednesdays. Guests can enjoy wonderful homemade treats at the Butler
Christmas Tea. The cost of the tea is $16 per person. Reservations are
required. Call (502) 732-4384 for more details.
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