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Stepping into to a Gilded Age Christmas

Ringland-Smeltzer open house will feature gingerbread baking

December 2, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, , Messenger News

New at the Ringland-Smeltzer House this Christmas: gingerbread.

After a summer of renovation, the kitchen will now be included in the tour of the 109-year-old house. Decorations in that room will have a gingerbread theme, including a gingerbread house and room hosts baking gingerbread.

The annual Christmas open house is a free tour of the richly decorated first and second floors. The opulent Gilded Age home was built for George Ringland, founder of the U.S. Gypsum Co.

Article Photos

Scott Gernhart makes an adjustment on one of the Christmas trees at the Ringland-Smeltzer House in preparation for the annual holiday open house.

Siblings Cyndi Fallon and Scott Gernhart are always in charge of holiday decorating for the house.

"We add to it every year," Fallon said.

"We go by the color scheme of each room," said Gernhart. "They finished a room, and we had to get all new things. Each year, really for the last five years, we've had a new room added that's been redone."

Fact Box

If you go:

WHAT: Ringland-Smeltzer Christmas Open House. First and second floors are decorated for the holiday.

WHEN: 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 9; snow date is 5 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11

WHERE: 1019 Second Ave. S.

COST: Free

The renovations started in the hallway, then moved to the living room, the dining room and the butler's pantry.

The improved kitchen features a range and microwave, a dishwasher, and new countertops and cabinets. The cabinets were designed to match those in the butler's pantry, which are all original, Gernhart said.

Room hosts in period costumes will act as guides, pointing out the historical objects in the rooms that belonged to the family.

Throughout the house four 9-foot-tall Christmas trees are on display, along with lights, garland with red berries and pine cones, and bows of all kinds.

Upstairs, the grandparents' room has a new tree this year, decked in red and green ornaments to match the red wool carpet. In the children's room, much has stayed the same, but some of the pieces are new.

"We try to use like what a kid would have in their room, you know, more children-oriented," Gernhart said. "Some of the toys were Ann's, and the barn, and the blocks on the mantelpiece are hers."

Ann Smeltzer was Ringland's granddaughter and the last family member to live in the home; she died in 1999.

Guests should watch for the small Christmas trees on the sideboard in the dining room.

"These are called feather trees, and they definitely would have had these. Some of these decorations here were Ann's," Gernhart said.

Not all the decorations are exactly period, but they are in keeping with the feel of the period, Fallon said. And the vast majority of them are bought locally.

A good example of this is a nearly 5-foot-tall Santa statue in the corner of the dining room, which the volunteers said was a big draw last year.

"People were so impressed with it, and they wanted to know, 'Was that Ann's?'" Gernhart said. "I found it at Menards, which was always the big shock. That's one of the tricks of decorating. You don't have to spend a lot to make it look like you did."

The Santa Claus is resin, he said, a material that wouldn't have been available back then. But it matches the feel of the period. The family also would have had electric Christmas lights, though they wouldn't be the same as what's featured there today.

Another trick of decorating is to take pictures of how everything is set up, so volunteers can recreate the look next year.

"That's a crucial thing," Gernhart said.

Though the siblings clearly enjoy the whole house, they were able to pick out a favorite room.

"The new room is always our favorite. That's what we're focusing on, for one thing, each year," said Gernhart.

"We like the kitchen this year, because it looks so good," Fallon said. "That's what we get excited about."



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