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Holiday heritage

Event will showcase restorations at the Ringland-Smeltzer House

December 4, 2011
By BARBARA WALLACE HUGHES, Messenger managing editor , Messenger News

One of Fort Dodge's grand dames will be showing off her holiday finery during an open house Dec. 11.

Visitors to the Ringland-Smeltzer House will also get their first view of the latest renovations at the Fort Dodge landmark, including the formal dining room.

The home, built in 1903 for George Ringland, founder of the U.S. Gypsum Co., is being restored to reflect its appearance during Fort Dodge's Gilded Age. Ringland spared no expense building the house, including hiring a high-profile Chicago architect to create the luxury family home at 1019 Second Ave. S.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Volunteers Cynthia Fallon, left, and Scott Gernhart put the finishing touches on one of the decorated fireplaces at the Smeltzer House in preparation for the Ringland-Smeltzer Christmas open house.

"We want people to see the house, to come and enjoy," said Jack Christensen, one of the trustees of the Ann Smeltzer Charitable Trust, which owns the house. Ann Smeltzer was Ringland's granddaughter and the last family member to live in the home; she died in 1999.

But open house visitors can experience her influence.

A painting of Smeltzer and her mother has been professionally cleaned and refurbished, and hangs over the fireplace in the dining room, the latest room to be restored during the multi-year project.

Fact Box

If you go:

What: Open house, including costumed hosts and hostesses

When: 2 to 5 p.m., Dec. 11

Where: Ringland-Smeltzer House, 1019 Second Ave. S.

Cost: Free

The painting was created in 1915 by nationally known Fort Dodge artist William Reaser.

Siblings Cynthia Fallon and Scott Gernhart who, for the past five years, have decorated the house for its holiday guests, chose this year's decorations to highlight the dining room's focal points.

They combined a pine cone and floral garland with natural things - including pheasant feathers - to hang from the fireplace mantel, which is also decorated with candles in red glass containers.

While the decorations aren't necessarily historical, "they are things they would have had," said Gernhart, including electrical lights.

But the table-top feather trees displayed in the dining room have candles on the branches and feature small ornaments, found in the basement, that once belonged to Smeltzer.

The decorations for each room are tailored to that room's color scheme and character, and it's not a seasonal project.

"We look all year," said the volunteers, whose own homes have been featured on previous Yule Walks for the Fort Dodge Area Symphony.

Although they try to purchase as many materials as possible locally - and most are - sometimes Fallon finds a few decorating treasures out of state, during her travels, she said.

The other challenge is decorating in bulk for the mansion, which features high ceilings and more rooms than most homes.

"If it's for a tree, we need three times what a normal person would need," Gernhart said.

Although formal tours won't be offered during the open house, there will be period-costumed hosts and hostesses in rooms on the first and second floors who can answer questions. Also during the event, which will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 11, Barb Schultz, who is also a trustee, will play piano.

In case of severe weather, the open house will be rescheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 13.

Contact Barbara Wallace Hughes at (515) 573-2141 or



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