Historic homes tour offers glimpse of Christmas past

Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2002 at 11:23 p.m.



  • What: Southeast Historic District Home and Garden Tour, including the Magnolia Plantation Bed and Breakfast, the Laurel Oak Inn and the Matheson House. The inns and museum will be dressed in seasonal decorations and lighted by luminaries.
  • When: Tours from 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7.
  • Admission: Free. For more information, call 378-2280.

  • Part of this year's Festival of Lights will include a carriage ride through the Historic Southeast District of Gainesville to sneak a peak at three historical homes, which will provide tourgoers with some unique visions of Christmas past.
    First stop, the Magnolia Plantation Bed and Breakfast Inn, an 1885 French Second Empire Victorian home with seven cottages on the property and Gainesville's first bed and breakfast inn opening in 1991. Visitors will be able to tour the grounds and see two Charleston-style gardens, a 60-foot waterfall and pond, a bridge, a four-tiered water fountain and gazebo.
    Walkways will be lit and holiday music will add atmosphere to the event. The garden stroll will reveal the elegant grounds of the Magnolia, including its many cottages - Sugar Plum Cottage, the Carriage House, the Garden House, Miss Huey's House, Beth's Courtyard and Key Lime Cottage.
    Inside the three-story inn, visitors will be able to view parts of the first floor. This year's Christmas tree theme is "family" and owner, Cindy Montalto, will have the tree decorated with handmade items, including needlepoint and candles made by family and friends.
    The dining room will feature ribbon flowing from the chandelier onto the table for a May pole affect. Should visitors wish to return for future visits, the Magnolia is totally opened each March for a spring tour.
    Cindy and Joe Montalto purchased the home in 1990 and restored it to its original grandeur of 5,400 square feet of living space.
    Three years ago, the Magnolia entertained guests Monta and Peggy Burt of South Florida, who were looking for a lifestyle change. They fell in love with the Gainesville area and, under the encouragement and mentoring of the Montaltos, purchased the property next to the Magnolia and transformed it into the Laurel Oak Inn - Gainesville's newest bed and breakfast and the second stop on our tour.
    It is an 1885 Queen Anne Victorian home restored to much of its original design. Tour-goers will be able to view the first floor featuring one of five bedchambers, called The Library. The entrance to the bedroom is through a set of spoon-carved, Eastlake double doors to an antique Queen Anne bed and bath with walk-in shower and seat. Other areas on the first floor include parlors, the dining room, a guest powder room, kitchen and entertainment area.
    The Burts purchased the home in 1999 and spent two years converting it into a bed and breakfast. They celebrated their first anniversary as innkeepers in November. The couple will be escorting visitors through the first floor and providing a commentary and history of the home.
    The third stop of the tour is the Matheson House and Matheson Museum adjacent to one another on East University Avenue. The simple two-story Matheson House is a Victorian structure that was home to the Matheson family from 1867, when it was built. In 1996, Sarah Matheson, wife of former mayor Chris Matheson, left the house in trust to what was to become the Alachua County Historical Trust: Matheson Museum Inc. Visitors will be able to tour the first floor parlor and front bedroom and see the home much as Sarah Matheson left it with a combination of period antiques, modern furniture and personal memorabilia. The home will be decorated in much the same style as a family of the late 19th century would have decorated, using natural wreaths and pine cones. Visitors are welcome to take a stroll through the first floor, where a guide will be available to answer questions. The museum, adjacent to the house, will feature botanical prints by a local artist and the library can be a welcome rest. Visitors will be able to browse through a 3,000-volume library of Florida history. The museum was built in 1932 and will feature a gingerbread house display, a Santa Claus and a print signing by a local artist.
    The Laurel Oak Inn will be one of three stops on the Southeast Historic District Home and Garden Tour. The inn, owned by Monta and Peggy Burt, is an 1885 Queen Anne Victorian home restored to much of its original design. The Burts will be escorting visitors through the first floor and providing a commentary and history of the home.
    The Matheson House will be decorated in period style with natural wreaths and pine cones,
    and the Matheson Museum will feature a gingerbread house display.
    Other holiday home and garden events taking place in the area:
  • White Springs Christmas: The annual Christmas Festival of Lights and Christmas Tour of Homes and Tea will be held Dec. 14-15. The parade begins at 5 p.m. Dec. 14 in the White Springs Ball Field and ends at the Stephen Foster Center. Admission is one or more canned goods. The Tour of Homes and Tea begins at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 with a tour of five homes and four churches. High Tea will be served at 4 p.m. in the Methodist Church Educational building.
    Tickets for the tour are $12 in advance, $15 the day of tour, available at Spring Street Antiques. For more information, call (386) 397-4661.
  • A Victorian Christmas: The Garden Club of St. Augustine holds its 34th Annual Tour of Homes 1-5 p.m Dec. 1. Tour includes viewing seven Victorian era homes in downtown St. Augustine decorated with holiday finery and floral arrangements made by Garden Club members, and a Victorian tea at the Garden Club. Tickets: $15 per person. Call (904) 797-6719 or (904) 797-7458 and pick up tickets at The Garden Club of St. Augustine, 184 San Marco Ave., St. Augustine.
  • Stroll back in time: The 12th Annual Bed and Breakfast Holiday Tour takes place Dec. 7 and 8 from 1-5 p.m. Nine historic bed and breakfast inns decorated for the holidays, and a restored 1891 Nassau County Courthouse will open their doors for tours. String quartet and hand bell choir from the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival. Tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call the Amelia Island Chamber of Commerce at (800) 226-3542.
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