Celebrate the Holidays & Relive Victorian Traditions

Visitors who tour Hearthstone Historic House Museum in December will feel like they are wandering into the old poem, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Rooms will be decorated with unique features of the season, along with aspects of Victorian yuletide traditions, including antique dolls and toys under the trees decorated with antique ornaments. Sugared and dried fruits, bird ornaments and ribbons will grace garlands, wreaths and swags. Stockings will be hung on the fireplaces. Each stocking will include the embroidered name of each child who lived in the house.

Hearthstone Historic House Museum is on the state and national historic registers and is an example of Queen Anne Victorian style architecture.

To add to the mood for nighttime events, costumes will be available for guests who want to dress in Victorian-era clothing.

Marketing & Development Director Tom Weiland said Christmas is the most popular time of the year for Hearthstone. This year’s theme is Victorian Christmas: Sugar Plums and begins Nov. 30. Guests can tour Hearthstone at their leisure while listening to live musical performances. Each night will feature a different area soloist or group. 

 “We will have music and cookies and milk for the kids in the kitchen,” he said. “It’s a different kind of event than the daytime tours. “The entire house is lit by the original 1882 electroliers, which are some of our premier artifacts in the house, as well as numerous Christmas trees. We had nine Christmas trees last year.”

What makes Hearthstone unique is that it was the first house in the world to be powered by a centrally located hydroelectric station using the Edison system that is used today.

“Thomas Edison fired up his steam-powered dynamo in early September 1882,” Weiland said, “and a few weeks later, this dynamo was fired up in Appleton, Wisconsin – of all the towns!”

Weiland said volunteers are crucial to operating this nationally renowned historic site that became a museum in 1986. There are many volunteer roles to fill.

“We have a large key group of volunteers here who are extremely committed to Hearthstone, particularly the events, because they know they help drive operations for the house,” he said.

Hearthstone was built by Henry J. Rogers, who not only brought electrification technology to Wisconsin, but shaped the city of Appleton through his paper mills and his work bringing gas and water services to the city.

Volunteer roles include greeters, who welcome guests at the main entrance and collect admission fees; docents, who provide tours of the house; and a house manager, who has keys to open and close the house. For some volunteers who really want to get into the spirit of the season, they can wear costumes that are available at the Hearthstone.

To help get the house ready for the holiday, Hearthstone brought in the Give Back Bus from Volunteer Fox Cities, which transported 13 employees of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to Hearthstone in November to decorate the outside and clean the entire interior. Executive Director George Schroeder said their work represented more than 120 volunteer hours. However, he points out that the impact is actually broader.

“Because the work was done simultaneously and in such a short amount of time, it has permitted us to tackle the final stages of our Christmas exhibits ahead of schedule,” he said. “It also permitted our regular volunteers to attend to other specialized duties like giving tours. Our visit from the Give Back Bus could not have worked out better.”

Volunteers always are welcome at Hearthstone, including folks to help with light cleaning once a month and a more thorough cleaning after Christmas; and preparing and distributing posters and brochures before events. Weiland also is looking for volunteers to work with him on creating a social media plan to include Pinterest and Instagram, help with regular posts to social media and determine the best methods to attract visitors and participants to special events.

Volunteers willing to restore windows also would be a plus.

“If we would hire a company to restore the 126 windows in this house, it would cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Weiland said.

To preserve this national treasure, a $500,000 top-down exterior restoration is taking place. “We have had some extremely generous people,” Weiland said. “We have been able to raise about half the money for the three-year project in the first five months.”

A new roof was installed this summer, simulating cedar shingles. There are nine fireplaces in the house. The stacks coming out of four ornate chimneys were completely restored. Weiland explains that the term, restored, is very important.

“Everything in this house – other than the offices – is from the period,” he said. “You won’t find reproductions. We have a group of curators who are astute to making sure that everything is correct.”

  For information on volunteering at the Hearthstone, contact George Schroeder at 920-730- 8204 or gschroeder@hearthstonemuseum.org.

Make Hearthstone a holiday tradition!

What: Victorian Christmas: Sugar Plums
When: 6-8 p.m. on Nov. 30 and Fridays and Saturdays in December
Where: Hearthstone Historic House Museum
625 W. Prospect Ave, Appleton
Tickets: visit hearthstonemuseum.org