BLOOMINGTON — Boughs of holly, roasted chestnuts and halls of splendor were on display Saturday at three decorated mansions in Bloomington-Normal.
The 18th annual Christmas at the Mansions tour attracted nearly 1,400 people to see historic holiday decor at Ewing Manor and David Davis Mansion, both in Bloomington, and a mystery house at 1004 Broadway Ave. in Normal.
Bloomington sisters Lori Brennan, Mary Kay Killian and Julie Stoeckel marveled over a towering evergreen tree in the formal living room of Ewing Manor.
“It’s stunning,” said Stoeckel.
“It’s gorgeous. I wish my house was decorated like this,” said Brennan.
“Such elegance — I love it,” said Killian.
Live greenery was draped over doorways and mantels in every room and wrapped the three-story spiral staircase in the center of the 1929 manor.
“When visitors walk in, they are hit with that smell of Christmas because we don’t use artificial greenery,” said Toni Tucker, Ewing Cultural Center director.
Original Christmas cards from Ewing family and friends were on display in the library. In the dining room, greenery wound through silver flatware and fine china on the table.
“We set the table with the silver and china set that Hazle and Davis (Ewing) received as a wedding gift in 1907,” said Tucker.
The Ewing family did not decorate as elaborately at the time, said Tucker. A single, four-foot tree was displayed and a long stocking was hung from the spiral staircase. The Ewing grandchildren would help decorate the tree.
After touring Ewing, tour visitors stopped at the mystery house in Normal: the DeGarmo House, built in 1887. The Queen Anne-style home was built by Charles DeGarmo, who graduated from and taught at Illinois State Normal University. ISNU teacher Herman Schroeder also lived in the home at one time.
Live greenery draped the house’s porch railings and decorated trees shone in many of the rooms.
Across town at David Davis Mansion, the theme of Charles Dickens was present in each room.
Judge David Davis and his wife Sarah lived in the house, built in 1872, and Davis had an interest in Dickens after hearing the author give a reading of “A Christmas Carol” in Washington, D.C.
Decorative nods to Dickens’ Christmas stories included roasted chestnuts, holly sprigs, mistletoe, a cricket on the hearth and Christmas baskets for those in need.
“I never knew that Davis heard Dickens speak,” said Kay Henrichs of Bloomington, touring with her sister Lisa Kemnetz of Chatsworth. “It’s great to come here to get in the Christmas spirit.”
Mansion program coordinator Audrey Paulson said the Davises traditionally decorated with simple greenery and a few small trees.
But on Saturday, elaborate decorations, tour guides in period clothing and traditional music set a festive mood in the 36-room Victorian home.
Reece Nyberg, 11, was surprised with mansion tour tickets by her mom, Michele Carey of Bloomington, and grandma, Sheree Wagner of Sun City, Ariz.
“I’ve been wanting to come here since I was, like, 7,” said Reece after finishing the David Davis tour. “It’s really cool to see all this old stuff that hasn’t been around in years. It’s fun to spend time with my mom and grandma, too.”
“It’s really nice to see this local history at Christmas,” said Carey.