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Christmas at the Poor­house. Col­legian | Madeleine Miller

No twin­kling lights or iri­descent tinsel strands adorn the humble cob­ble­stone house at 180 Wolcott Street. Instead, pine boughs, red candles, and paper orna­ments — softly illu­mi­nated by lamp­light— lend toa quaint Christmas cheer that harkens to days gone by. Christmas at the Poor­house, an annual holiday open house that pro­vides area res­i­dents enter­tainment, fel­lowship, homemade treats, and the oppor­tunity to learn about Hillsdale County her­itage.

The Hillsdale County His­torical Society main­tains the Will Car­leton Poor­house, and delights in show­casing it in authentic holiday splendor each December. Members donate time and money to dec­orate the house, prepare food and baked goods, and coor­dinate musical acts for the occasion.

The His­torical Society has hosted Christmas at the Poor­house since 1989, and it has become a beloved com­munity tra­dition; this year’s event, held Dec. 1 and 2, was well-attended.

Mary Foulke, a member of the His­torical Society Board, appre­ciates the unfussy fes­tivity of the event.

“Christmas at the Poor­house gives us the oppor­tunity to share what things were like years ago, in simpler times,” she said. “It’s a beau­tiful sim­plicity, and it’s a time for reflection.”

During the 1850s and 1860s, the Will Car­leton Poor­house served as a res­i­dence for the elderly and those who had fallen on hard times. While a student at Hillsdale College, Will Car­leton often walked to the poor­house to visit with the tenants. An inter­na­tionally renowned poet, he based his best-known poem, “Over the Hill to the Poor­house,” on his expe­ri­ences there. Today it serves as a venue for edu­ca­tional com­munity events and a mon­ument to Hillsdale’s early days.

His­torical society members col­lab­orate to deck the house in accor­dance to its Vic­torian begin­nings for Christmas at the Poor­house, this year relying on natural greens to enliven it. The two-story Poor­house con­tains fur­niture from the 1850s through the 1900s donated by Hillsdale County res­i­dents, and vis­itors were welcome to explore the entire house to get a sense of what life was like in the latter part of 19th century. Vol­un­teers sported period outfits, com­pleting the authen­ticity of the expe­rience.

Mar­garet Scott, who has been a member of the His­torical Society for about 13 years, said Christmas at the Poor­house is her favorite event the society puts on.

“Anyone inter­ested in history would enjoy coming here just to learn about how things were,” she said.

This year’s musical lineup was diverse, including a country band, vocalists, a clas­sical gui­tarist, a french horn player, a violin player, and local musician Bob Pogue. Many of the musical acts incor­porate the house’s pump organ.

His­torical Society member Judy Evans has been planning the enter­tainment for about 10 years, and books per­formers from throughout Hillsdale County.

“I try to get a variety,” Evans said. “And I make sure to schedule some time with nothing going on so people can visit.”

Jenna Ellis, 12, has been singing at Christmas at the Poor­house since she was four years old and enjoys the chance to share her talent and passion with the com­munity. She opened with her favorite song, “Away in a Manger.”

In addition to enjoying refresh­ments and fel­lowship in the poor­house, attendees were welcome to visit the ren­o­vated barn, where vendors and His­torical Society vol­un­teers sold baked goods and old-fash­ioned Christmas dec­o­ra­tions.

Hillsdale res­ident Penny Swan has been attending Christmas at the Poor­house since it started.

“It’s one of my favorite things to do,” she said. “Christmas at the Poor­house is a really neat piece of history.”