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Adding history to holidays

Visitors to the Swetland Homestead get a look at some of the Christmas traditions of yesteryear.

Spinner Anne Shiner talks about her craft with Bob Mischak and Florence Howanitz on Sunday afternoon at the Swetland Homestead Holiday Open House in Wyoming.


WYOMING – Visitors to the Swetland Homestead on Sunday got a look at the holiday decor enjoyed by some of the wealthier Wyoming Valley residents in the Colonial and Victorian eras.

Luzerne County Historical Society employees and volunteers – most of them sophomores in a Wyoming Valley West High School honors history class – began the holiday tour season at the historic structure with a Holiday Open House.

Built in 1803 for one of the valley’s first settling families, the home was bedecked in what might be considered meager holiday furnishings compared with present-day standards, even though the Swetlands were fairly wealthy thanks to wise investments in the coal industry and railroads.

Wreaths hung in some windows, swags of greenery garnished with ribbons and ornamental fruit were draped over doorways and a fireplace mantle, and a decorated Christmas tree was set up in the corner of the living room.

Still, visitors were impressed with more mundane household items such as a bed warmer, pointed out by volunteer Jen Kenger in a children’s bedroom, and Victorian furniture described by Emily Wallitsch in the living room.

Kenger explained to a group of children touring the bedroom that the only heat sources in the house were fireplaces in other rooms, so a copper pan filled with hot coals was used to warm the Swetland children as they slept.

“People ask about the couch, which is made out of horse hair. A lot of people think it’s satin, and they’re surprised when they find out it’s not,” Wallitsch said in the adjacent living room.

The sophomore history students, who served as tour guides as part of a community service project, seemed to enjoy sharing their newly acquired but detailed knowledge of the homestead and its original owners – William and Catherine Swetland – with the adults and children who traipsed through the historic residence.

Clara Hudson, administrator of the homestead, was pleased with Sunday’s turnout, and she expects the annual candlelight tours that begin on Thursday to be even better-attended, when “almost the entire house is lit by candlelight” to make for a more authentic olden-days atmosphere.

While guests are offered a mini history lesson in each room of the home, the focus during the holiday tours is the “changing of the holiday traditions” from 1780 to 1880, Hudson said.

“The real draw for people is that this is the one time of year that people are allowed upstairs, and we serve refreshments,” Hudson said.

The young children of Michelle Perry and Karen Moore, two sisters and both of Wyoming, had fun making origami Christmas tree ornaments upstairs after enjoying some cookies and punch. The first-time visitors to the homestead said they were impressed with the tour.

Visitors also seemed to enjoy the live entertainment – provided Sunday by harpist Sara Smith. Other musicians will entertain guests for the candlelight tours with acoustic guitars and stringed instruments.


What: Swetland Homestead Candlelight Tours.

Where: 885 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming, just north of the Midway Shopping Center.

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 16.

What else: Live holiday music and treats. Call 823-6244 for more information.

Admission: $7 for adults; $5 for members of the Luzerne County Historical Society; $3 for children 12 and under.

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