When tour guide Gerald Kershner welcomes visitors to the Jackson Mansion in Berwick this weekend, he c
ould tell them how the wealthy Jackson family used to manufacture wagon wheels, then railroad cars, then military tanks.
He could talk about how his own great-grandfather, Jacob Knecht, worked as coachman for Col. Clarence Gearhart Jackson, a veteran of the Union Army who designed the spacious home more than 130 years ago.
Kershner could even reminisce about how he played on the grounds as a child. I would play Civil War, and either the North or South would win depending on how I felt that day.
But most likely he won't do much talking.
We'll have mobs of people, and they'll want to see the decorations, said Kershner, who doesn't want to distract them during the Victorian Christmas Candlelight Tours planned for the Jackson Mansion tonight and Saturday.
He and other guides – women in costumes and men in tuxedos – want people to enjoy the great, carved staircase and stained-glass windows of the grand home as well as the carolers, musicians, wassail, greenery, Christmas trees, poinsettias and candles, all designed to give it a holiday glow.
The wallpaper shimmers in the light, said Kershner, who divides his time between Berwick and Los Angeles.
The Jackson Mansion is one of several historic buildings that will be open to the public this weekend, hinting at the hospitality of bygone eras.
For a colonial-style welcome, you can visit the Nathan Denison House in Forty Fort on Saturday and Sunday.
The first room sets the tone, long-time Denison Advocate Barbara Stevens said. Col. Denison will be there, entertaining guests, talking back and forth and involving the people who come through, welcoming them to the valley as if they're new settlers.
So perhaps Col. Denison will suggest what kind of apprenticeship a youngster might enjoy; perhaps his friend the reverend will explain he needs new voices in his choir and invite you to sing.
As you enter the kitchen, you'll be treated to the sight and aroma of old-fashioned food.
A woman will be making a stew, and apple fritters will be cooking over an open fire, Stevens said, predicting that younger costumed re-enactors will be stringing popcorn and cranberries.
A display of colonial desserts is likely to include many things made from apples, steamed cranberry pudding – it's called a pudding but looks like a cake – and king's cakes that are like cookies with mace and currants. They had gumdrops, too. That surprises a lot of people.
Unfortunately, the Denison House desserts are just for display, Stevens said, but you can donate $1 and receive a copy of some colonial recipes. They're not hard at all to make.
Just a few blocks away, the Swetland Homestead also will be aglow with holiday decorations, and costumed interpreters can explain how the Swetland family grew, prospered and added on to the original 1803 structure.
You'll find a Victorian parlor there, which might whet your appetite for more Victoriana. If that's the case, you might head to Eckley Miners Village, where you'll find many old-time ornaments decorating the trees at the Sharpe House this weekend
Farther afield, you have from Monday until Dec. 22 to see holiday decorations on three floors of stately Grey Towers in Milford.
Home to former Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot, that mansion once boasted 23 fireplaces. Quite a few are still there, staffer Melody Remillard said, explaining the mantels have been made festive with greenery, pine cones, birds and fruit.
In lavish Victorian style, the decorators didn't stop with a one evergreen.
Every floor has a Christmas tree, Remillard said.
What: Victorian Christmas Candlelight Tours
Where: Jackson Mansion, 344 N. Market St., Berwick
When: 5 to 8 tonight and Saturday
More info: 759-8020
What: An Afternoon of Colonial Hospitality
Where: Nathan Denison House, 35 Denison St., Forty Fort
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Admission: $4, $2
More info: 288-5531
What: A Swetland Christmas
Where: Swetland Homestead, 885 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming
When: 6 to 8 tonight; 1 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $6, $4
More info: 823-6244
What: Victorian Christmas celebration
Where: Sharpe House, Eckley Miners Village, Highland Road, off Route 940, Eckley
When: noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
More info: 636-2070
What: Grey Towers holiday tours
Where: 151 Grey Towers, Milford, Pike County
When: 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Monday through Dec. 22
More info: 296-9630