Historic houses gussied up to welcome holiday guests
In its Holiday Tour of Historic Homes, Museums of Brevard, often referred to as MOB, mixes a generous portion of holiday cheer with a leisurely visit to the Brevard that once was.
There are more than historic homes in this event as it also includes the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. The tour spills over three December weekends — Dec. 1-3, Dec. 8-10 and Dec. 15-17 — to allow seeing all the sights. The properties will be decked out for the holidays and several of the sites will offer holiday treats, such as cookies, eggnog and small gifts.
“This event brings together a sense of tradition, festivity and culture,” said Korinn Braden, vice president of Museums of Brevard and director of Field Manor, one of the homes on the tour.
“We all decorate for the holidays and feel this will be the perfect way to really show what Brevard has in the way of historic architecture at such a special time of year.”
Cape Canaveral Lighthouse
The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, guarding the shore since 1868, is still in use. Now automated, the lighthouse once depended on keepers such as Mills Olcott Burnham, who served from 1853 to 1886. Burnham and his descendants kept the light burning for 80 years.
For the MOB tour, white net lights will surround the railing at the top of the lighthouse near the beacon. Garlands and a wreath will adorn the outside stairs leading to the third-floor entrance; wreaths will bracket the door to the Keeper’s Cottage.
“The MOB Holiday Tour of Historic Homes is one of the rare opportunities during the year for the public to visit when the lighthouse and Keeper’s Cottage are decorated for the holidays,” said museum director Becky Zingarelli.
Visitors will be treated to cookies and other goodies, plus a lighthouse bookmark keepsake.
The Fields homesteaded in Merritt Island in 1868 and were successful citrus growers who appreciated any opportunity to get together with family and friends.
“For 155 years, this old house has celebrated Christmas,” Braden says. “As the first house in this area, void of neighbors and stores, Christmas was a small affair, celebrating the season and family.”
Visitors on the tour can expect to find reimagined vintage pieces, and an ornament to take home as memento of their visit.
From its bluff overlooking the Indian River, Green Gables has witnessed many changes to the Melbourne that its builders, William and Nora Wells, knew in 1896. Saved from development by a group of determined volunteers, Green Gables will be decked for the holidays and evergreens will line the riverbank.
“You will find every inch welcoming and warm,” said Sue Fallon, one of the historic home’s most devoted fans. “Visitors will enjoy not only their tour, but our signature lavender cookies and mulled cider, and leave with a token of remembrance of Green Gables.”
Lawndale reveals the life of a well-to-do Rockledge family at the turn of the century. A self-made man, Hiram Smith Williams helped establish the county as a fruit packing center, served as Rockledge’s first postmaster, county treasurer and state senator. He also created Brevard Telephone Company, the county’s first telephone service.
Williams designed a schoolroom — one of the earliest purpose-built educational spaces — as part of his home, to educate youngsters in the community as well as his own children. The family occupied the home until 1989.
A 20-year restoration has brought the house back to its heyday. During the holidays, the beautifully decorated staircase welcomes guests to a very special time in Brevard history.
Moore Cultural Center
Harry and Harriette Moore taught in segregated public schools around Brevard County from 1925 to 1946. The first activists of the modern Civil Rights Movement in Florida, the couple paid dearly for their advocacy against racial injustices and inequalities when, on Christmas night in 1951, a bomb exploded under their modest bungalow in Mims. Moore, who started the Brevard branch of the NAACP, was killed in the blast; Harriette died nine days later.
A replica of their three-bedroom, shotgun-style, 1928 home serves as the Moore Cultural Center. During the holidays, it is decorated to evoke the times and traditions of the couple who devoted their lives to righting wrongs.
“The Moores celebrated the holidays by visiting with their family,” said Sonya Mallard, cultural center coordinator.
“They did not open any gifts that day because they were waiting until the next day when their youngest daughter, Evangeline, would be home.”
The house Capt. James Pritchard built in 1891 in Titusville was always the perfect setting for the holiday celebrations the family so enjoyed. According to Pritchard’s granddaughter, Polly Schuster Polk, opening presents was serious business.
“The parlor doors remained closed until everyone was assembled in front of them and they were opened to reveal what Santa had delivered,” she said. “Afterwards, everyone gathered in the dining room for breakfast. After the dishes were washed and put away, it was time for more presents.”
The house, an outstanding example of Queen Anne architecture, appears today much as it did when it was built in 1891. “The historic Pritchard House will be decorated throughout, with vintage ornaments in the parlor, a Christmas tree and vintage toys under it,” said director Roz Foster. Each visitor will receive a small gift at tour’s end.
Rossetter House transports visitors into the world of a successful Florida entrepreneur at the turn of the 20th century. In 1902, James Wadsworth Rossetter purchased the 1859 home of Eau Gallie pioneer John Houston. With five children, Rossetter needed more room so he bought the 1904 winter home of a New York industrialist, dismantled it from its original location at Ballard Park, shipped it up the river and joined it to the first house via a breezeway.
Rossetter’s daughter, Carrie, willed the house and gardens to the Rossetter Foundation, the nonprofit she formed to ensure her beloved home would be enjoyed by generations of visitors.
Fun fact: The house was the 2021 pick for the Zonta Club of Melbourne’s holiday ornament collection, which showcases sites of local historic interest. Proceeds benefit Zonta’s efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence and human trafficking issues.
Sams House at Pine Island
Brevard pioneer John H. Sams built a 600-square-foot cabin in Eau Gallie in 1875 to house his family of four adults and six children. When the family decided to move closer to relatives in North Merritt Island, the house was moved along with them to its present site. The family built an additional classic Florida vernacular house in 1888, constructed with then-abundant Merritt Island pine. Even the larger house was a tight fit, since the family by then counted eight children, plus Sams’ older brother and sister.
Tour visitors will experience how the pioneers enjoyed Christmas — and enjoy some cookies, too.
“The house will be decorated inside and out using different kinds of foliage that the family had growing around the house, along with using fresh citrus as decorations,” said education center coordinator Alexandra Schilling.
Although the eight stops differ, the sites in MOB’s Holiday Tour of Historic Homes share the spirit of the season and the spirit of the people who helped shape Brevard County.
“This is a wonderful way to start celebration of the Christmas holiday season with friends and family,” Foster said.
Maria is a prolific writer and proofer for Space Coast Living and an adjunct professor at Florida Institute of Technology’s Nathan M. Bisk College of Business. When not writing, teaching or traveling, she can be found waging a one-woman war against her lawn and futilely attempting to maintain order among the chaos of a pack of extremely clueless wirehair dachshunds and an angst-driven basset hound.