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Holiday tea in historic setting

December 09, 2002|by BONNIE HELLUM BRECHBILL

The historic Oller House, built in 1892 in downtown Waynesboro, was the Victorian setting for the Waynesboro Historical Society's first Christmas tea Saturday.

Lucy Schemel, chairman of the society's program committee, said society members serve about 100 people each year at a spring tea.

"It's very popular," she said, adding that some guests attend in full Victorian costume.

Society members prepared the food and decorated the 16-room Oller House for the Saturday afternoon event. About 20 people attended.

Joseph J. Oller was a local bank executive and industrialist in the 1890s when Waynesboro was enjoying an industrial boom. He and his wife, Myrtle Funk Oller, had the brick Queen Anne mansion built and raised their three children there.

"The Ollers were prominent citizens, and this house was a center of social activity," Schemel said. "It has seen many Christmas celebrations."

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Home to the Waynesboro Historical Society since the early 1990s, the high-ceilinged, turreted mansion has a sweeping front porch, tiled fireplaces, an original gas chandelier and an elaborately carved grand staircase. All the woodwork is American chestnut.

The Ollers left the house to their daughter, Rello Oller, who lived there until shortly before her death in 1992.

Longtime Historical Society board member Mary Jane Weagly has lived in Waynesboro for all of her 84 years.

"Rello sold the house (to the historical society) for $1," she said, while enjoying tea in the music room.

Piano music for the tea was provided by Annalee Moyer, Anna Showalter and Gloria Showalter.

Guests sat at small, elegantly appointed tables in the parlor and music room.

Throughout the tea, society members gave brief presentations about the origins of Christmas traditions. The first Christmas card, for instance, was sent in 1743 in England by Sir Henry Cole. He had 1,000 cards printed in black-and-white and colored in by hand.

The picture depicted a family raising a toast to the recipient, and was widely criticized for promoting drunkenness. Nevertheless, the practice of sending Christmas cards caught on, and later came to America.

The second floor of the Oller House contains a gift shop and the working offices of the Historical Society.

"We have a lot of genealogical resources, and experts who help with research," Schemel said.

The Oller House is at 138 West Main Street, Waynesboro. Hours are Wednesday, 1-5 p.m.; Thursday and

Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; and Friday. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. The telephone number is 1-717-762-1747.

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