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December 5, 2007 > Patterson House dresses up for Christmas

Patterson House dresses up for Christmas

A magical location in the greater Tri-City area becomes even more so as the winter holiday season approaches. The tranquil 200 acre setting of Ardenwood Historic Farm welcomes visitors all year long with strutting peacocks, farm animals including horses and a railroad with horse-drawn rail cars, an authentic - and functional - blacksmith shop and a working farm reminiscent of the 1890's. Patterson House, lovingly preserved by dedicated docents, is the centerpiece of the farm. Throughout the year, the house, gardens and gazebo are maintained and preserved by these volunteers who also give tours of this former home of George Washington Patterson, his wife Clara, and their sons Henry and William.

As days grow shorter and Christmas Day approaches, a flurry of activity envelops the mansion. Decorating plans that have been evolving for the previous 12 months become reality as a group of docents, each with a different room assignment, transform the house into a feast for the eyes. Windows glow as Patterson House takes on a festive aura, but the real treat for visitors is when they are guided through the magical transformation of the rooms and hallways. A preview is held for docents, volunteers and their guests, just prior to public viewing. This year, the decorative results were revealed on Wednesday evening, November 28, as several hundred guests admired the 2007 edition of a Patterson House Christmas.

The Parlor, one of the first rooms visited on the ground floor, sets the tone for the entire house. This year, the parlor was decorated by Marty Jones, a veteran of 18 years at Patterson House. Her initial motivation for volunteering to work at Patterson House was actually a "backdoor" approach to an annual Ardenwood event. After trying unsuccessfully for several years to get a reservation to Christmas Tea, Mary decided that as a docent at Ardenwood, she would have an inside track for the coveted reservation. She notes with a smile and laugh that it took a bit longer than she anticipated but two years ago, after 16 years working as a docent at these teas, Marty was finally able to attend as a guest.

Marty has decorated almost every room in the house during these years and says that the parlor is probably her favorite. Knowing that the parlor would be her assignment this year - her second year in a row - Marty began preparing well in advance. "The day after Christmas, I went shopping for this year's decorations," she says. During the year, Marty is busy working at the teas held at Ardenwood, giving tours of Patterson House and serves as captain of the croquet team that has been playing on the grounds from April to September for the last 10 years. The team dons vintage white attire for the formal Victorian sport once a month. Visitors can watch and may see a friendly, spirited competition with a Livermore contingent. "We have a lot of fun," says Marty. Ardenwood, she notes is "a wonderful place to volunteer."

Guests at Patterson House are "amazed at how beautiful it is," says Marty. She adds, "A lot of local people have never been out here." It is an "unexpected treasure in the middle of Fremont." Marty's extensive connection to Ardenwood includes watching the intentional fire and destruction of one of the Patterson homes at the property. When acting as a docent in costume, Marty feels a kinship to the property. Raised on a farm in Iowa, much of the farm, its implements and animals are familiar to her. When school children visit, they often ask if Marty is Mrs. Patterson to which she replies, "I am, for a few minutes, anyway."

An upstairs "guest bedroom" was decorated by Jessi Stokes, a 17-year veteran docent of Patterson House. "My background has nothing to do with historic homes," says Jessi, but adds, "I love historic homes and always want to know what is going on inside these homes and what they look like." Although Patterson House docents have warm relationships with each other, Christmas decorations are a result of distinctive and separate efforts. The guest bedroom has been decorated with a handkerchief theme including many of Jessi's personal items. Jessi was helped by her daughter, also a docent, Diane Scherbarth. In a burgeoning family tradition, granddaughter Natali serves as a docent at Patterson House as well. Jessi notes that, "Each docent signs up to do a room and bring in their own decorations, their own ideas and their own creativity.

Though docents will be dressed in period costume during holiday tours, Jessi says the decorations are "not typical of a Victorian home in the 1890's;" a home in that era might have had one tree with candles and a few ornaments. While some docents prefer to decorate the same room each year, Jessi prefers to move around and tackle different parts of the house each Christmas.

When she became aware of the Patterson House, Jessi knew that someday she wanted to be a part of it. "The romance of the house, the elaborate decorations" and childhood memories of furniture similar to those at the Patterson House draw her close to the property. She adds, "I wouldn't want to live here, but I like to work here.

Circumstances finally allowed her to sign up for docent training and she has been an active participant ever since (Jessi is also active as Treasurer of the Historic Shinn House in Fremont). During the year, Jessi conducts tours and is available during "flow through" visits during which docents remain in a particular room to explain the furnishings and answer questions. She also takes part in school tours hosted by docents and works in the garden around the Patterson House. Speaking of these varied activities, Jessi says, "Each has its own personal pleasure."

Docent orientation is conducted by Patterson House manager Randy Hees and a "docent book" provides additional facts and information about each room. Each docent brings a little different perspective to the house. Jessi notes, "I don't think any docent gives exactly the same tour" adding, "I probably don't give the same tour each time either." She says tour guides can often tell where the group interest lies and "tweak" the tour to that particular area...history, furnishings, building materials, etc.

Ardenwood Farm and its grounds including Patterson House has been "a calm oasis in an urban area" for Jessi Stokes for the past 17 years. For those who have visited this tranquil setting in past years, the Christmas Tour offers a wonderful opportunity to renew your acquaintance. And for those who have yet to visit, this is a perfect time to begin an appreciation for Ardenwood Historic Farm during all seasons of the year. According to Jessi, many school children who visit Patterson House are particularly interested in the dining room with its "hidden" spoon drawer. For everyone, the entire house and its grounds are filled with such treasures.

Elegant Victorian Holiday Evening
Fri, Dec 7
5 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Open house with special holiday music
FEE: $5.00/Adult & Seniors $3.00/Children

Christmas Tours
Thu, Dec 6, 13, Sun, Dec 7, 14
1 p.m., 2 p.m. & 3 p.m.
Sat, Dec 8, 15, Sun, Dec 9, 16 Sat
11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
FEE: $4/Adults & Seniors, $3 Children (3+yrs)

Ardenwood Historic Farm
34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont
Reservations and Information:
(510) 796-0663
(510) 796-0199
www.ebparks.org

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