HARTFORD – Four weeks of intense decorating will begin later this month to get The Breakers (1895), The Elms (1901) and Marble House (1892) ready for the holiday season. Beginning November 19, 2016 and running through January 2, 2017, guests are invited to join The Preservation Society of Newport County to create holiday memories as they enjoy music, tours, visits from Santa Claus, model trains, antique toys and shopping at three of America's most outstanding historic houses.
Led by Curator of Historic Landscapes Jim Donahue and Gardens and Grounds Director Jeff Curtis, Preservation Society staff and volunteers will spend nearly a month filling the three houses with festive holiday decorations, matching colors and themes to the décor of individual rooms.
"We couldn't do this without our amazing corps of volunteers, many of whom return year after year," said Donahue. "This year we have 240 volunteer hours scheduled at the three houses." Volunteers place ornaments on trees, hang garland and decorate wreaths, among other activities.
Each year new themes, ornaments and decorations are added to keep the experience fresh for returning visitors. For 2016, each house will get new, taller pre-lit commercial grade Christmas trees; there will be total of 28 decorated Christmas trees throughout the three houses each decorated to coordinate with its setting. Thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers, evergreens and wreaths also fill the rooms. Windows in each mansions are lit with individual white candles.
New this year at The Breakers, the toy train display in the second floor loggia will focus on the Vanderbilts' New York Central Railroad. Three model train sets, each different vintage reproductions of New York Central rail lines, will run through a grove of decorated Christmas trees. Nearby, display cases will exhibit memorabilia from the New York Central Railroad from the Preservation Society’s collection. Volunteers from The Little Rhody Division of the National Model Railroad Association will operate the trains on weekends and during Holiday Evenings at The Breakers.
Among the three houses there will be 24 holiday-decorated mantelpieces, each with their own theme. At Marble House, seven regional garden clubs will decorate the fireplace mantels in the second rooms in a competitive challenge. Each club will be given a subsidy for materials, and their creations will be judged by certified flower show judges. Participating in the mantelpiece challenge will be the Portsmouth Garden Club, Bristol Garden Club, Seaside Garden Club, South County Garden Club, Plum Beach Garden Club, Newport Garden Club and Quononoquott Garden Club.
At The Elms, a Gilded Age streetscape theme in the ballroom will feature period sleighs and lanterns, mannequins wearing vintage clothing, trees and a topiary horse. Also on display in the house will be a collection of antique decorations and toys donated by Berwind family descendants.