Decorations from Days Past Martin Mitchell House Captures the Look of Christmas from a Century Ago
Donovan, Deborah, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Deborah Donovan Daily Herald Homes Writer
A tree of ice, also called a white tree, stands in the bay window of the family parlor - a strong symbol of the early 20th century trend away from elaborate Victorian Christmas trees.
A cloud of silver and gold angel hair and a tinsel gold star made of heavy pipe cleaners crown the top of the 9-foot tree. Other decorations include strings of pearls and gold beads and cotton batting teased and sprayed with adhesive then sprinkled with mica and something called diamond dust.
Crafting holiday decorations for the meticulously refurbished Martin Mitchell mansion at the Naper Settlement is a challenge custom-made for members of the Naperville Garden Club.
"Trees had gotten very elaborate with all different kinds of ornaments," said Bonnie Bula, chairwoman of the garden club committee in charge of the mansion.
"The style switched to choosing a theme. This tree is primarily silver and white, one of the options in 1903. Gradually in a few years people added everything again."
Christmas a century ago was selected as the target date for the recently restored home. Some $2.8 million returned the house to the style from the 1890s to 1907.
The home with its Christmas decorations will be part of the settlement's Christmas Memories today through Dec. 21.
The mansion was built in 1883 by George Martin, a tile and brick manufacturer. After his death a few years later, it remained home to his wife and daughters, including Caroline, who was joined in the residence by her husband, Edward Mitchell.
Caroline Martin Mitchell died in 1936, leaving the house and grounds to the city of Naperville. Years later it became home to the historic Naper Settlement.
The tree and other Christmas decorations were based on research that the settlement provided Bula, including articles from magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, from the era.
On a white tree, decorations include silvered artificial Spanish moss, glass icicles and ones made of tinsel that can be stretched. White balls, silver leaves and white-flocked pine cones were also added to the tree.
In some homes, presents might have been added under the tree, but there were no children in this family, Bula said.
One of the more unusual touches was hanging fish net on the side of the staircase to display roses, hydrangeas, gilded pine cones, red ribbon and a variety of green branches like pine, magnolia and palm.
"They would have had bunches of greens as an alternative to a tree, hung in a swag of fish net in the corner," Bula said.
Formal rooms have a deep frieze or border near the ceiling. In the hallway, the design with gold is shaped almost like a stylized basket of flowers. The classic mantel of rosy marble and alabaster in the formal parlor is lavishly decorated with red and white roses, sugared fruit, holly, heavy green ribbon and even a bird's nest. …