Museum opening doors during Christmas on Historic Broadway

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Spring Valley Historical Society director Stephanie Bowe Osterhus decorates the front porch of the Washburn-Zittleman House Museum for a Christmas open house.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE The parlor Christmas tree is festive and welcoming.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

With tea on the back burner, Stephanie Bowe Osterhus wants people to take their time.

The Spring Valley Historical Society (SVHS) director is planning an open house at the Washburn-Zittleman House Museum during Christmas on Historic Broadway instead of the annual Christmas tea or the occasionally-happening Christmas tour of homes.

“As of now, the Christmas tea is on the back burner,” she said. “We had hopes of doing the Christmas house tours, but it didn’t pan out this year. I’m still learning how to plan events and didn’t realize how soon you actually needed to start planning for the tours.”

Osterhus, who had been a museum guide for several years under the leadership of former director Julie Mlinar, and who now holds the task of sharing local history in high esteem, hopes that this year’s Christmas event is an opportunity to take in all that Spring Valley area residents didn’t know is part of their local history as they visit the house on the corner of Courtland and Hudson streets the afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 7, during Christmas on Historic Broadway. The museum is one of three buildings the society maintains.    

“While the house is open all summer long, people rarely seem to want to take a tour of it.  They have an option of taking a guided tour of the church and house museum for $7, but that tour usually lasts at least an hour and a half, and people just don’t seem to have that kind of time,” she said. 

The Christmas tour of the Washburn house will be a self-guided walk around with Osterhus and a couple of tour guides available to answer questions about the history of the building or artifacts on display. 

“One of my favorite things is seeing people walk through the museum, people that have lived in Spring Valley all their life, and they still say, ‘I didn’t know that!  I’ve lived here for a very long time!’” she said.   

The Washburn-Zittleman House Museum belonged to Charles Washburn, and it’s home to all the society’s artifacts considered “homey” enough to illustrate what living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was like.  Osterhus admires the house for its mellow dark woodwork. 

“We always get comments on the woodwork that was done by Charles Washburn.  It’s absolutely beautiful, the inlays on the doors and the arches.  I think anyone would really appreciate that,” she said. “My favorite artifact is the square grand piano that was donated to us a few years ago.  It’s a remarkable piece, and before it was donated to us, I didn’t even know square grand pianos existed.  It really ties our parlor room together.” 

The historical society has plenty to show off for the holiday season.  Visitors will see the dining room that doubled as a doctor’s office, a parlor decked out in Christmas ornaments, the Lobdill Twins’ matching clothing – virtually everything Spring Valley’s most notable twins wore matched — a toy room showing a collection of amusements from days gone by, and more.  

“The downstairs is completely decorated for Christmas.  The upstairs, we decorated just a little, as we wanted the focus to be more on the displays in the rooms,” Osterhus said. “Julie just put new wallpaper up in one of the rooms upstairs.  We had some repairs done to the toy room because this past spring and all summer, we had a huge patch on the wall – that’s a project we got done in time.” 

A variety of Christmas cookies will be offered as well as coffee and hot water for tea and cocoa.  There will also be a small table with two very easy Christmas crafts for kids. 

“After seven years with the museum, I know how bored children can get with walking around a museum,” Osterhus said. “Kids always seem to be done before their parents, so I decided to have a few crafts so the kids’ parents can still walk around and enjoy their time. 

“It’s an open house because I’m hoping to see new visitors to the museum this December.  I would love to see more community members walk through the door.  I’d love to have a conversation with everyone and hear what they love about the town, or stories from when they were growing up.”     

The society maintains a regular tour schedule throughout the summer, every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, to welcome visitors to the house or the Methodist Church Museum, a structure that has ties to the Wilder family of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book series. They are also open weekends in September and October.  Two big events are the ice cream social in June and the one-room schoolhouse in July for kids to come and learn about what it was like to attend a one-room schoolhouse. 

“We had a great turnout for the school this past year, and we are actually talking about maybe having two sessions a day because we had some children that wanted to come last year, but we unfortunately had to turn some away,” she said. “Right now, we are trying to raise money for our agricultural barn roof, and it’s been an ongoing project for a few years now.”     

For now, Osterhus reiterated the invitation to stop in at the Washburn house and see what’s waiting just inside the front porch door.  The open house will take place at the very-cozy Washburn-Zittleman House Museum on Saturday, Dec. 7, from 1 to 4 p.m., and admission is by donation.