By Tammy Scileppi
You don’t need a time machine to visit a bygone era and experience Queens’ colorful and surprising history.
Long ago will be just a stone’s throw away Dec. 7 when the 27th annual Holiday Historic House Tour takes participants to seven architecturally unique landmarks decorated for Christmas celebrations.
Visitors can begin their journey to the past, sponsored by the Queens Historical Society, at any of these venues: Kingsland Homestead, Friends Meeting House, the Bowne House, Voelker Orth Museum, Lewis H. Latimer House Museum, Corona’s Louis Armstrong House Museum and Flushing Town Hall.
“It’s a great event for people to come out and visit an area of Queens that is filled with history, and enjoy themselves to welcome in the holiday spirit,” said Karyn M. Balan, Queens Historical Society’s interim executive director.
And kids and teens can learn a thing or two about the borough’s early days, while finding out how everyone got along without cell phones or iPads.
“We feel it really helps people to explore the neighborhood better and discover something that they might have passed by a million times but never really noticed, like some of these historic sites, which will be decorated in their holiday best to add to the experience of an old timey holiday celebration,” Balan said.
For example, Voelker Orth Museum will have some holiday music sing-a-longs in its old-fashioned parlor, which will be decked with boughs of holly.
The beauty of this event is that people can pick and choose where they would like to go — there’s no starting point — and you can visit as many or as few of the sites as you’d like, all for one price.
Balan pointed out that a majority of the sites are all within walking distance of one another (with the exception of the Louis Armstrong House in Corona).
Enter another dimension at Kingsland Homestead (143-35 37th Ave.) which was occupied by the King/Murray family until the 1930s. During the tour, families will enjoy musical performances, along with a special holiday gift sale and exhibit: “Remembering Yesterday: Queens and its World’s Fairs.” Currently serving as the headquarters of the Queens Historical Society, Kingsland offers school programs, tours, and lectures documenting local history.
Built in 1694, the Friends Meeting House (137-16 Northern Blvd.) is the first house of worship in Flushing and the city’s oldest structure still being used for Quaker religious services. The holiday tour will include a walk around the property to view its historic cemetery.
The Bowne House (37-01 Bowne St. ) will extend a warm welcome to curious visitors, who will have the chance to hang out in the festively decorated vintage parlor and sneak a first peek at its newly restored exterior. They will also enjoy a talk on traditional holiday foods, sample some recipes and hear music performed by a musician from the Mannes School of Music.
Built in 1661 by English settler John Bowne — best known for his courageous defense of religious freedom in America — this city, state, and national landmark tells the story of Queens through nine generations of the Bowne family.
In this dressed-for-the-holidays Victorian house, visitors will enjoy afternoon piano performances and a special gift and plant sale.
At one time, Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary & Victorian Garden (149-19 38th Ave.) was home to three generations of a prominent Queens family, who lived there since 1891. It was originally purchased by Orth, an immigrant who published German-language newspapers.
Pay homage to African-American inventor Lewis H. Latimer (34-41 137th St.) during the tour and visit the house that bears his name (constructed from 1887 to1889).
The son of fugitive slaves, he lived in this home from 1903 until his death in 1928. Many people are not aware that Latimer played a vital role in the development of the telephone and the incandescent light bulb.
Open house and traditional holiday refreshments will be offered throughout the day, along with a glass painting demonstration.
New this year for the holiday tour, the Louis Armstrong House Museum (34-56 107th St., Corona) will recreate an outdoor Christmas tree in the garden as a tribute to a tradition started by Lucille, the jazz legend’s beloved wife.
One of Queens’ most recognizable city and national landmarks, the house became the couple’s permanent home in 1943 until Armstrong’s death in 1971. But his spirit lives on there, through rare audio clips from Satchmo’s personal recordings. Visitors will have the opportunity to hear his well-known voice reading “’Twas the Night Before Christmas, A Visit from St. Nicholas.” This was the last recording he ever made.
Built in 1862, Flushing Town Hall (137-35 Northern Blvd.) is an example of Romanesque Revival architecture. In its heyday, the venue transformed itself into a popular cultural hub, where folks enjoyed operas and performances by P.T. Barnum and Tom Thumb. The landmark once welcomed Teddy Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant when it served as a political center, and Fredrick Douglass once spoke to the community from its portico.
Kids and teens may get the creeps when they visit Flushing Town Hall’s old jail cell and find out that several murder trials were held in this historic building.
Now home to the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts, this popular performing and visual arts space has proudly maintained its cultural status over the years.
“We are proud to be part of this annual tradition and to show New Yorkers – and visitors to New York – all of the wonders of Flushing Town Hall,” said Executive and Artistic Director Ellen Kodadek. “This year, as a special treat, we will be unveiling a holiday market showcasing artistic and culinary items, many handcrafted in New York City.”
Works from Queens-based artists and artisans will be available for purchase in the gallery from 1 – 5 p.m,
You’ll have lots to choose from: handmade jewelry, Christmas ornaments, naturist paintings, handcrafted ceramics, paper goods, T-shirts and much more. You can also sample honey, jams, and granola made by Green Earth Urban Gardens.
“Participants will get increasingly amazed as they go along, because each house will offer its version of holiday fun and decorations,” said Queens Tourism Council Director Rob MacKay. “They’ll learn about interesting people, local history and awe-inspiring architecture, while getting in the spirit.”
A shuttle bus will connect the Louis Armstrong House Museum with the other sites via Flushing Town Hall.
IF YOU GO
Holiday Historic House Tour
When: Sunday, Dec. 7, from 1 pm – 5 pm
Cost: $25/adults at door, $20/adults advance purchase, $10/children 12 and under
Contact: (718) 939-0647