Historical Steilacoom home gears up for the holidays with weekend open house

Garlands strung with popcorn, dried apples and cranberries line the banister of the Nathaniel Orr Home in downtown Steilacoom.

Inside the historic home, volunteers were making finishing touches Wednesday as they prepared for Christmas. The holiday decorations and an antique collection of dolls and toys — some from the early 1900s — will be on display this weekend in the town of 6,000 people.

This year’s decorations give a nod to the 30-year period in the late 1800s when Nathaniel Orr lived in the home with wife, Emma, and their eight children. Guided by the idea of creating a child’s vision of Christmas, volunteers have spent hours decorating the home.

Many of the dolls, bears and other toys on display came from Hildegard Bolz. A native of Germany who moved to the Tacoma area with her husband in the 1980s, Bolz now lives on Hood Canal in a Bavarian-styled home that displays the thousands of antique dolls and toys she’s collected over the years.

She loaned some of her collection to the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association for its Christmas at the Orr Home event that occurs every other year.

Some of the pieces on display include a U.S.-made doll dating to 1903 from the Humpty Dumpty Circus. The A. Schoenhut & Co. figurine is a clown with bisque face. Another pair of antique dolls have heads and faces made of dried apples.

Playing off a Victorian Christmas theme, Steilacoom residents Crissy Ritter and Lauren Ferriter spent Wednesday finishing their task of decorating the two largest rooms: the kitchen and dining/living room.

“I did a ton of research when we took on the project because I had no idea what a Victorian Christmas looked like,” Ritter said. “They essentially decorated with what they had.”

After looking at historical photos of Christmas trees that Ritter described as “hysterical” and reminiscent of something that might appear in a “Doctor Seuss” book, the pair opted to use the Victorian era as inspiration, but kept their decor slightly more subdued.

Decorations on the tree will include strings of dried apples, oranges and cranberries, along with tinsel and beaded garlands.

Under the tree will be wrapped gifts, an antique rocking horse and other items that play up the excitement that children feel on Christmas morning.

The Orr Home will be open to the public Saturday and Sunday for tours. Refreshments will be served and local musicians will perform.

Jan Lucas, a member of the historical association’s board of trustees, organized the event. She helped acquire the antique dolls and asked people in town to help decorate. She told them the theme and let them run with it.

While the Orr Home is open to the public at other times during the year, this weekend’s event is meant to show a different side of the house that was converted from a wagon shop built in 1857 to a family home after Orr was married.

It’s also a family-friendly way to kick off the holiday season, Lucas said.

“We’re really hoping that people will come because it is a huge amount of work the volunteers have put in,” she said. “Part of the mission of the historical association is to maintain and promote the history of our town. This is an effort to get people in the Orr Home and learn the history.”