Decorated historic homes to open for holiday tours in Delaware

The Hale Byrnes House in Newark will be decorated for the season in time for its open house Dec. 7. (Submitted photo)

Simple decorations line fireplaces in every room of the nearly 270-year-old Hale-Byrnes House in Newark as the Christmas holiday approaches.

Pineapples, signifying a welcoming home, pyramids of apples, holly wreaths and other greenery prove to be simple, but effective, holiday decorations as resident manager Kim Burdick prepares for a unique holiday tradition.

Historic homes throughout the state like the Hale-Byrnes House are donning their best decorations as curators and owners prepare for the public to tour their buildings this month.

Holiday house tours spread warm seasons greetings, while helping the public learn about historic homes and events that helped decorate Delaware’s past with memories. Other historic buildings like Belmont Hall in Smyrna and Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes will help light up the season with festive decorations and activities this year.

Kim Burdick, resident manager for the Hale-Byrnes House at 606 Old Stanton-Christiana Road in Newark, says although they have simple decorations, she’s excited to see the home decked out in its Christmas gear. The home will be open to the public Saturday, Dec. 7 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

“It was built in 1750 and it was a Quaker House then,” she began to explain. “Quakers didn’t really celebrate Christmas anyway. Like, my ancestors are old, old New Englanders and the first person in my family that ever did Christmas was my father’s father when he was little in the Victorian days. So, they really didn’t do this stuff. But somehow it became a big deal. My grandfather, he was old when my father was born, but he was in World War I and when he was a little kid, that was the first generation in my family that ever had Christmas. So, we do it pretty simply.”

Jim Yurasek of Delaware’s Historical & Cultural Affairs said few decorations, or none at all, is commonplace for historic sites like the John Dickinson Plantation in Dover as decorating for the holidays didn’t come into fashion until the Victorian era, as Ms. Burdick explained. Some of the state’s sites do have minimal decorations to include wreaths.

Despite the tradition of no traditions, one could say, gardeners in Sussex County are working with the Zwaanendael Museum to decorate the building. Their theme, “Here we go a caroling,” will be highlighted throughout the museum and on the grounds with plant-based decorations with carols like ‘Here we come a wassailing,’ ‘Silver bells,’ and ‘The holly and the ivy,’ in mind.

Gardeners in Kent County with the Duck Creek Gardeners will also help decorate a historic building this year with the help of the Friends of Belmont Hall in Smyrna.

Jim Wolfe of Smyrna decorated the Thomas Collins room of Belmont Hall with simple decorations, like the Hale-Byrnes House, to include pine, cedar and fruit which he said was typical for the 1770-1820 post-colonial period. Other areas of Belmont Hall will be decorated in a more modern, or Victorian, style.

The historic Belmont Hall is hosting a free open house during the Smyrna Historic District Holiday House Tour Sunday, Dec. 15 from 1-4 p.m.; the tour will continue through 6 p.m. that day.

Tickets for the self-guided house tour includes admission to four non-residential houses and 11 private homes in the heart of Smyrna. A $10 donation is requested for adults and $5 for children ages 12-18. Children under 11 years old can participate for free.

Tickets for the tour can be purchased at Belmont Hall during their open house or at Smyrna Cards and Gifts or the Smyrna Museum during regular operating hours.

Mr. Wolfe, who has a home listed on the house tour with his wife Susan, says the event is a good opportunity to enjoy the holiday in a unique way. It is sponsored by the Duck Creek Historical Society and the Friends of Belmont Hall to support ongoing projects.

“It’s a good event. It brings people out and people can get ideas of things to do or, in some cases, things not to do for Christmas decorations,” he said.

Woodburn, the historic mansion which houses Delaware Governor John Carney and his wife Tracey, will also be decorated for the festive season. It will be open to the public for a special open house Saturday, Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Visitors to Woodburn will be able to not only see the 221-year-old home built by Charles Hillyard, III, but will also have the opportunity to enjoy holiday treats and meet Gov. and Mrs. Carney who should arrive around noon.

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