Although he says his family wasn't big on Santa and presents, he remembers gatherings of "bunches of relatives" during the holiday season. "I had six aunts in Hagerstown" he says.
Miller's father, a physician whose office was in the house, always had a "big pile" of greens - it probably cost about $3, he says - delivered to the home's back porch a couple of weeks before Christmas. Henry Miller's sister, Helen, was named "chairman of the greens committee," and she, her brothers Henry and Victor, and their mother would set about decorating the house, placing a branch behind each picture.
A "greens committee" of sorts has been at work again this holiday season.
Members of the Washington County Council of Garden Clubs recently decorated Miller house for Christmastime, as they have at least since the early 1970s.
This year's theme is "The Carols of Christmas."
The wreaths on the Miller House's front doors were created by Mindy Marsden, executive director. She used rings of faux white pine as the foundation for a simple and natural welcome. There are a few dried papery pods, sprigs of babies breath, tendrils of shimmery ribbon and a star of silver wire.
For the first time, the Christmas tree in the front drawing room is artificial. "I wouldn't have known," Miller says
The tall tree is decorated with vintage glass ornaments from the historical society's collection, says Jennifer Dintaman, curator. Under the tree are toys - a sled, horse and elephant pull toys, a tiny piano and a "very Victorian," six-burner cookstove. A circa-1900 doll, festive with a red and gold ribbon, sits in a chair of the period.
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" on the original marble mantel in the front drawing room. Three glass angels provide accompaniment to white candles in simple glass candlesticks. The arrangement, created by Crossroads Garden Club, stands on a garland of greens draping down the sides of the mantel.
"We Three Kings of Orient Are" can be found on the back drawing room mantel. The off-white porcelain royals and their camels stand among an arrangement of faux greens with purplish berries. Members of Hagerstown Garden Club used a winding length of translucent golden ribbon and golden sprigs to brighten the scene. Large loopy bows of gold-trimmed ivory anchor both ends of the mantel, cascades of ribbons trailing.
The bow-front chest in the entry hallway holds "Away in a Manger," created by members of Potomac Garden Club. The nativity scene is a simple wooden shelter set among palm, grasses and straw. Sheep stand guard over a porcelain Christ child, a delicate bronze-colored picket fence provides a border.
"It's Christmastime in the city ..." as well as at Miller house. "Silver Bells," designed by members of Antietam Garden Club, deck the stairway. Garlands of ribbons, faux white pine, tiny white lights and chains of wooden cranberries wind up the bannister to the second story. Bells - tiny jingle bells, bells with clappers and sleighbells - hang from ribbons among the greens, as do wooden figures and plaques with late 19th-century images. A couple of wooden figures - a lady with her muff, a gentleman in his top hat - stand in a pile of "snow" at the bottom of the stairs.
"The Holly and the Ivy" grace the dining room mantel at the Miller House. Town & Country Garden Club used fresh greens - variegated and green holly and ivy, as well as sprigs of juniper and boxwood, intertwined with cranberry-colored ribbon in the arrangement.
Woodland Garden Club provided a page from a songbook as well as the scene for the carol "When Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night."
Plaid-ribbon-bedecked portraits of Judge Jacob Fiery and his wife, Susan Startzman Fiery, seem to look down approvingly on Woodland Garden Club's arrangement on the dining room sideboard. An angel is posted above a wreath of faux white pine in which fuzzy sheep graze, surrounded by winding lengths of red-plaid ribbon and garlands of wound-wire stars. Silver candelabra from the historical society's collection stand on either side.
"It's simple but it's really elegant," Dintaman says.
If you go:
"The Carols of Christmas"
Christmas at the Miller House
135 W. Washington St., Hagerstown
Wednesdays to Sundays, through Sunday, Dec. 29. Special tours are available by appointment.
Admission: $5 for adults; $3 for senior citizens and students older than 12; free for children 12 and younger.
Miller House will be closed to tours until Wednesday, April 2. However, the Jamieson Geneological Library and Washington County Historical Society offices will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call 301-797-8782.
Members of the Washington County Council of Garden Clubs have decorated the Federal period townhouse, home of the Washington County Historical Society.
Participating garden clubs:
- Antietam Garden Club
- Crossroads Garden Club
- Hagerstown Garden Club
- Potomac Garden Club
- Town & Country Garden Club
- Wooodland Garden Club