Old House Holiday Tours: How to Use Your Home (and Passion!) to Help Your Community

By: JoVon Sotak , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Musings, In The News

Though strong retail numbers from Black Friday offer some hope for a stronger economy leading into 2011, we’ve seen lots of evidence that the economic recovery is going to be a slow one. Some parts of the country were hit much harder than others. Budgets continue to be slashed and the full impact of the recession on historic districts and properties has yet to determined.

I’ve posted in the past about historic properties in rural Nevada like the Goldfield Hotel, the Mizpah Hotel, and the George Bartlett House. Readers have responded with comments–and I’m sure you’ve heard similar comments about historic properties in your own cities and towns–that governments should pick up the costs of preserving historic homes and buildings. Without getting into sticky political territory here about what should or shouldn’t be a government’s role and how government funds are currently used, I will say that tax increases aren’t very popular with most people and the money has to come from somewhere. One of my posts recounted how a small and determined group of ladies raised the necessary funds in the early 1900s to build what is now a historical library in rural Nevada. The community organized and participated in events to benefit the community with an eye toward the future.

Once historical homes and properties in your community are gone, they are gone forever. What can you do to help?

‘Tis the season for twinkly lights, eggnog, and holiday cheer. ‘Tis also the season when hundreds of strangers will pay good money to see the decked halls of your home and ooh and ahh over all those little historically accurate details that you’re convinced nobody (except maybe your OldHouseWeb.com friends) can appreciate. If your house is an old one, an arguably not historic (yet), there’s a really good chance that many people in your community know about your house. If you’ve been working on restoring or renovating it, I’m here to tell you that they really want to see the inside of your home.

If your community already has a historic holiday homes tour organized, find out which organization the tour benefits and decide if you want to participate. Holiday tours may benefit historical societies or districts, other local preservation efforts, or local non-profit organizations.

You’d mostly likely need to decorate the interior and exterior of homes, which you might already be doing. Some hosts offer refreshments. Many old-house owners experience pride in telling others about the work they’ve done to their home and what their future restoration plans are (talk about motivation for next year!). These tours are also an opportunity to raise awareness about preservation.

The Ball Farmhouse, built 1897, is the oldest property on the 2010 Holiday Homes Tour in Herndon, Virginia. Photo c/o Home Holiday Tour

Don’t assume that the tour already has too many homes or that your home isn’t special enough for a tour.  I’ve lived in a city where holiday home tours were split into multiple routes and held multiple evenings so that people could purchase tickets to see for a specific route. Hard core holiday tourers could get a discount for purchasing tickets for all three routes.

Talk to tour organizers. If you heard rotten things from community members about your local tour or if you’ve personally had a bad experience, you’re probably not the only one. Pick a good cause and organize a tour. Good first steps include talking to your local museum, other old house owners in your area, the local historical society or historic preservation commission to see if there’s any historic home holiday tour plans in the works that you can help with or lead.

Check out these holiday home tours to get inspired: