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Vintage Christmas displayed at Renfrew

December 08, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Last week's snow provided just the right touch for the annual Yuletide Christmas open house Sunday at Renfrew Museum and Park, covering the historic farm with a white blanket that shimmered in the late afternoon sun.

Inside the Royer House, scores of guests got a sense of what the holiday was like in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with decorations courtesy of the Toll Gate and Blue Ridge garden clubs.

The first thing Louise Kyser, secretary of the Toll Gate Garden Club, does as the annual open house approaches is put out a call for volunteers from the two clubs. The next is to call a tree-trimming service to provide them with the pine boughs for wreaths and other arrangements.

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"Some of the other girls have magnolia and holly in their yards, and they bring that, too," Kyser said. "We don't use any artificial plastic or silk flowers. It's all live greens," she said of the decorations.

Dressing up the house for the event takes three or four days, Kyser said.

"And that's full days," she added.

All items used in the decorations must have been available before 1830, Kyser said. In the kitchen, dominated by a large open hearth, she had a list of natural dyes, including bayberry for green, black walnut and red onions.

One room that did not get a holiday makeover was the one in which exhibits from the Snow Hill Cloister are displayed, said Curator James Ross.

"They didn't celebrate the holidays, so we don't decorate it out of respect for them," Ross said of the monastic society that was active in Quincy, Pa., during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

One garden club member supplied an ancestor's recipe book for the open house, which showed that cooking was more art than science a century or so ago. Ingredients listed included "butter the size of an egg" and "a handful of flour."

"This is my first Christmas here," said Ross, who was named to the position earlier this year from Rockford Plantation in Lancaster County, another historic home museum. Long-running traditions such as the Yuletide Christmas made his transition easier, he said, because "everyone knows what their job is."

"As I was preparing to bring my stuff today, I found my contract from 1986," said guitarist Dan Mack of Germantown, Md., one of the musicians performing in different rooms of the farmhouse.

"That might have actually been my second year," said the former professional musician who is a perennial performer.

"King David in biblical times played a plucked psaltery," said Dr. Terry Musselman of Greencastle, Pa., who was playing a bowed version of the stringed instrument, little changed since the Middle Ages. He also performed on the Appalachian and hammer dulcimers.

A few feet away, Dr. Debbie Geer of Waynesboro plucked the strings of a harp. There was more music in the former barn that serves as the visitors center with the bell choir from Trinity United Church of Christ and the Wayneaires choral group.

"I'm very impressed with the pristine condition of the house," Collien Driscoll of Waynesboro said at the end of the tour. "Obviously it's lovingly taken care of."

"I don't think many communities have anything like this," said Glennis Maya of Waynesboro, remarking on the institute's programs for children.

Ross said the theme of this year's open house was antique toys.

Thomas and Jack Gorman, both 7, of Waynesboro, seemed impressed by the collection, as they eyed a display case of vintage toys, dolls, books, puppets and games.

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