Deck the Magnificent Halls

An annual Evansville holiday favorite will transport visitors to the Victorian era when it begins its Christmas season on Nov. 15.

“Victorian houses certainly lend themselves very well to Christmas decorating and a traditional type of Christmas,” says Matt Rowe, executive director of the Reitz Home Museum, located on historic S.E. First Street, in the Riverside Historic District near Downtown Evansville. “So it seems like a natural sort of thing for us to be doing during Christmas.”

The Reitz Home was completed in 1871, built by John Augustus and Gertrude Reitz. The couple had 10 children. Reitz, known as “the lumber baron,” built a sawmill on Pigeon Creek near the Ohio River in 1845. By the 1880s, the Reitz mill had produced more hardwood lumber than any other in the country.

This is the 36th year for the Reitz Home Museum Victorian Christmas. Decorations will interweave traditional Christmas stories, including Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Schulz’ “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and the song “Twelve Days of Christmas.”
Decorating the 8,000-square-foot structure takes nearly a village of volunteers. The museum is closed the week of Nov. 1 to deck the halls for the holidays.

Volunteers donate their time, talents, and materials to help decorate the home. Many give up their own Christmas ornaments and embellishments during the holidays to give others joy. It’s an honor to sacrifice the beautification of his own home to help preserve the Reitz family’s history, says Evansville resident Doug Patberg, who has beautified the Reitz Museum 34 of 36 years. He serves as the chairman of the Reitz Home Museum Victorian Christmas.

Patberg, who teaches alternative education and coaches cheerleading at Harrison High School, is one of 16 decorators who have agreed to help this year.

“Our volunteers are those who express an interest,” says Rowe. “They are not all professional interior designers.”

Those who regularly devote their time to decorating for the Victorian Christmas event are the Reitz Home Guild, Kirsten Wagmeister of Newburgh, Indiana, Julie Williams of Evansville, Mary Stratman of Evansville, Keith Bauer of Huntingburg, Indiana, Jim Lang of Evansville, Liddy West of Evansville, Christi Goodman of Evansville, Pamela Hemmersbach of Owensboro, Kentucky, Pinch of Sugar and Dianne Miles of Newburgh, Bobbie Gilman of Evansville, Veronica D. Hamilton & Co., and interior design students from Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.

Each volunteer is assigned a room they are responsible for and each room is assigned a different storybook. Patberg’s room will be decorated in the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Rowe emphasizes he wants the Reitz Museum decorations to reflect antique ornaments. “Glitter is forbidden,” he says. During past years, all of the embellishments were authentic to 1871 when the home was built. Flowers were dried, paper ornaments were created, and plastic decorations were set aside.

The exterior of the Reitz Museum also is decorated with help from Rowe and Patberg. The two will place wreaths on the door and garland on the iron gates.

The one-hour Christmas tours of the museum begin Tuesday, Nov. 15, and run from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., with the last day Dec. 31. The museum is not open Mondays, Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day.

“Christmas is the only time of year we have when there is a line when we open,” says Rowe. “We really enjoy having all those people.”

In addition to noticing the Christmas decorations, Patberg says visitors often gravitate to the dining room where they can view all of the collections of 19th century glass and porcelain, and Francis Joseph Reitz’ room because of his notability in Evansville.

“It pleases us very much to have such a high volume during the holiday season,” says Rowe. “It is a gateway for visitors and they make it a point to visit during the summertime where they can focus on the decorate art, finishing, and furniture.”

In addition to the Christmas tours, the museum offers a self-guided candlelight tour on Dec. 12 from 5 until 8 p.m., with Santa Claus arriving in a horse drawn carriage.
“The real Santa,” says Rowe. “This Santa experience is one you can’t get at the mall.”

For more information about the Reitz Home Museum Victorian Christmas, call 812-426-1871 or visit

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