Victorian Tradition

Butler-Turpin home offers glimpse
of 1860s-era Christmas decorations

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

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 of 1863.
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 son.

Butler Turpin Historic Home

The speech, Abraham Lincoln’s 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 that time.
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 to celebrate.
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. Moore’s “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.

Back to December 2002 Articles.



Copyright 1999-2015, Kentuckiana Publishing, Inc.

Pick-Up Locations Subscribe Staff Advertise Contact Submit A Story Our Advertisers Columnists Archive Area Links Area Events Search our Site Home Monthly Articles Calendar of Events Kentucky Speedway Madison Chautauqua Madison Ribberfest Madison Regatta