LARGO — For a taste of holiday cheer mixed with Florida history, nothing beats Heritage Village decked out for the holidays.
Check out how Florida frontier families living in rustic cabins celebrated the holidays. Or step into a more affluent family's Victorian abode all dressed up for the season.
It isn't just the historic homes at Heritage Village, Pinellas County's 21-acre living history museum, that are decorated. The depot and the Heritage Mercantile store offer up their own visual treats.
This is the first year the Walsingham House has been decorated, says RoseMarie Kafer, Pinellas County Historical Society president. It's also the first time in many years that the Lowe House has been dolled up for the holidays.
With the help of an interior decorator, the houses, the church and Union Academy all were given special attention in an effort to show how Pinellas residents celebrated the holidays from the mid 1800s through the 1950s.
While the decorated buildings can be viewed during regular park hours Saturday until the end of the year, an excellent time to visit is during the Trees and Traditions open house Dec. 1. That event, sponsored by the Historical Society, offers a day of family fun harking back to 1912, when Pinellas County was formed.
That year, 1912, was kept in mind as activities were planned.
"This is our centennial celebration," Kafer said. "We've been planning this a long time and have made it as close to 1912 as we could."
The stately, two-story House of Seven Gables "is our premier home with its over-the-top Victorian adornments," said Trees and Traditions co-chairwoman Connie Allen.
The home is wrapped in garland and red bows. The dining table is set for a feast with fine china. Candles sit atop the fireplace mantle, and garland drapes the staircase. Look at, but don't touch, the huge Christmas tree complete with toys that Santa would have delivered to children of the era.
Then there's an 1852 log cabin modestly decorated in holiday greenery. It is faux greenery to meet fire codes of today, but it is meant to represent what frontier families would have cut from the Florida forest to decorate.
Union Academy, an African-American schoolhouse moved from Tarpon Springs, was decorated as the children would have done then.
"We used a lot of pine cones, and the tree is decorated with cotton balls and paper chains," Kafer said. "We used an old grapevine wreath with cotton balls to decorate the front door."
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If you'd like to do more than just tour the decorated buildings, Trees and Traditions on Dec. 1 will include holiday music, craftmaking and family activities. Some homes will have docents dressed in period costumes ready to answer questions and point out highlights.
A model train exhibit will be set up in front of the depot by 4 Men and Their Trains. Bell ringers, dulcimer players, the Salvation Army Band and junior docent carolers will perform in the Williams Park Bandstand. Tampa Bay Miniature Enthusiasts will set up a holiday display.
"Co-chair Deb Carter and I have spent most of the year preparing for Trees and Traditions," said Allen. "We've brought in new performers, and though it's a fairly young event, we have plans to expand."
Adults will get the feel of the time period just touring, and children can create Christmas crackers, paper chains and Victorian bookmarks in the Pinellas Room.
Even Santa will be dressed in Victorian attire to greet little ones. He will also read letters he received from children between 1912 and 1914. They somehow ended up published in the then-St. Petersburg Times.
"We want and need people to come and participate in this Trees and Traditions," Kafer said. "A lot of people tell me, people who live only a few miles from here, that they didn't know about Heritage Village. We hope people will come and see what it's all about."