Celebrate the season in style at one of New England’s famously decked-out mansion museums.
By Yankee Editors
Oct 28 2021
The Chase House, Strawbery Banke | Portsmouth, NH
TRAVEL NOTE: Covid-19 concerns may affect operations this holiday season and beyond. Before making your travel plans, please check the latest visitors’ information for individual businesses and attractions by going to their websites or contacting them directly.
Take a merry trip back in time at one of these festive New England mansion museums, and for more New England holiday essentials, check out the Yankee’s 2021 feature “The New England Holiday Bucket List.”
Outfitted with 14 fireplaces, ornate carving throughout (in seven kinds of wood), and a hidden staircase to the original owner’s third-floor laboratory, this Gilded Age gem maintained by Historic New England draws holiday inspiration from its Aesthetic Movement interiors, which include textiles by William Morris.
This c. 1907 coastal estate puts on quite a seasonal show inside, including a two-story Christmas tree in the front hall and decorations throughout many of its 45 authentically furnished rooms. But where it really shines is outdoors, where the masterfully landscaped grounds transform into a magical display of lights and handcrafted ornaments.
Despite its imposing High Gothic grandeur, this manse was brightened by the holiday spirit of its celebrated original owner, who once wrote that “that old hallowed Christmas legend … warms the torpid kindnesses and charities into life” and whose family would put together yuletide gift baskets for the less fortunate. Meanwhile, the speaking tubes in the nursery were “connected” to the North Pole so the children could tell Santa what they wanted.
Last year it took 780 volunteer hours to deck the halls at this 138,000-square-foot oceanfront estate, an Italian Renaissance–style palazzo built for a shipping and railroad tycoon in 1895 (hence, tiny trains can be seen among the home’s 12 themed Christmas trees). Outside the home—which, like its similarly lavish c. 1901 neighbor, will be open for holiday tours—visitors will find a landscape awash in countless colored lights, including 28 twinkling spruce trees.
Part of a one-of-a-kind collection of preserved residences, this Georgian-style home boasts a long and colorful history that includes a reputed visit by George Washington, the survival of three major city fires, and a stint as an orphan’s home. When the holidays roll around, it’s decorated in late-18th-century style with wreaths and floral arrangements including both native and exotic flowers and foliage.
Though the famed American political family who built this Georgian Revival beauty used it mainly as their summer home (and twice hosted President Taft there), two coal-burning furnaces in the basement ensured that any holiday stays would be cozy. On hand to provide seasonal tunes: the family’s 1908 electric pneumatic Aeolian pipe organ and original Steinway piano, which are still used to greet visitors at Christmastime.
A turn-of-the-century masterpiece of classic Italian and French influences, this palatial home was recently named one of the nation’s top 10 holiday house tours. Notably, its owner was a famed American author who, no fan of sentimentality, once wrote a Christmas memoir about wartime refugees in Paris.
Inspired by Queen Victoria’s favorite residence, Osbourne House, this coastal mansion began its holiday event 40 years ago as a weekend tea attended by 67 people. These days, it’s known for hosting a six-week event that draws up to 10,000 people to ooh and aah at rooms filled with lavish 1860s furnishings by Gustave Herter and Victorian-era Christmas decorations by local designers.
The family who built this c. 1928 Stuart-style seaside mansion were such avid sailors that they had five wind indicators installed throughout the home—they could tell if it was a good sailing day even before getting out of bed! Now overseen by The Trustees, the home is decorated for holiday tours (don’t miss the antique sled on the first floor) and holds a festive Roaring ’20s cocktail party with some 200 guests in vintage attire.