Three iconic Twin Cities homes, managed to retain their historic grandeur, open their doors during the holiday season to visitors seeking respite from their own domestic dramas. Enter and find yourself immersed in another period, where costumed docents, actors, or re-enactors guide you through the mores, traditions, and nostalgia of yesteryear. A welcome reprieve from holiday busy-ness, these homes awe and inspire.
Winterlights at the Purcell-Cutts House
William Purcell and George Elmslie designed the Prairie School-style Purcell-Cutts House in 1913, now managed by the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). During the holidays, the Minneapolis house is decorated to reflect the upper-middle-class family’s lifestyle along with the home’s signature innovations. Gifts and toys, food, and cultural traditions are part of the tours. The Christmas tree showcases handmade paper ornaments, while the home furnishings illustrate the ways in which the “progressive” family used more modern, functional objects, rather than the more decorative objects of the Victorian period. (Various times through December 31. Get tickets here.)
A Victorian Christmas at the Alexander Ramsey House
If Victorian is more your style, the Alexander Ramsey House, which is managed by the Minnesota Historical Society, is swoon-worthy this time of year. The “Victorian Christmas” at this historic St. Paul home fills the senses with seasonal delights. Not only can visitors feast their eyes on Victorian décor and view the Ramsey family’s original Christmas ornaments and the gifts they gave one another, the smell of homemade cookies wafts from the kitchen with a wood-burning stove. All the while, the era’s holiday music is played on the family’s 1875 Steinway grand piano. (Various times through December 31. Get tickets here.)
Christmas Traditions at the James J. Hill House
The Hills loved to entertain in their Gilded Age mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul in the 1890s. Throughout the stately home—with its grand staircases, art gallery, pipe organ, library, dragon-shaped sconces, skylights, and hidden nooks and crannies—servants, guests, and family members would swirl through holiday festivities. The holiday tour in this home, also managed by the Minnesota Historical Society, includes opportunities to read and converse about memories shared in Hill family letters, and to view historic photos of the neighborhood once ruled by railroad barons. (Various times through December 31. Get tickets here.)
By Camille LeFevre