Historic Minnesota houses offer holiday home tours

Historic Minnesota houses offer holiday home tours.
James J. Hill House

Go back in time and see what it was like to celebrate Christmas in some of Saint Paul’s most historic houses. Holiday home tours at both the Alexander Ramsey House and the James J. Hill House provide a chance to learn about Minnesota’s history and celebrate the holiday season.

The Victorian Christmas tours at the Alexander Ramsey House are from November 25 to January 1, Wednesdays through Sundays. The house was lived in by three generations of Ramseys between 1872 and 1964. Practically all of the original furniture, including Christmas decorations such as a ten-foot Christmas tree with family’s original ornaments, are used to decorate the halls.

Visitors will learn about Victorian parties and discuss popular holiday recipes of the time. Gingersnap cookies will be served using the recipe from the Ramseys’ neighbor, Mrs. Willis. According to site supervisor Kelsey Hokenson, the Minnesota Historical Society was able to find out about the Ramsey holiday traditions through journals that the families kept. Many of the Christmas customs were similar to current traditions, but the gifts were usually more practical. “In this time, maybe you would get a new pair of gloves, a book or a handkerchief, but it was still all about the family and celebratory events,” Hokenson says.

James J. Hill House tours run during weekend afternoons in December, except for a tour on the morning of December 24. Guides in period dress show guests around the house, which is decorated with a large Christmas tree, poinsettias, wreaths and garlands. When the home was finished in 1891, it was the largest and most expensive house in Minnesota, worth just under $1 million. The house has 42 rooms and 13 bathrooms, and housed eight of the 10 Hill children, as well as their parents.

Much of the family’s history was preserved in Mrs. Hill’s diary entries, which mentioned holiday festivities and even listed all of the Christmas presents for the family. Program supervisor Jessica Sutherland says that some of the family traditions included decorating the tree on Christmas Eve with real candles and going on sleigh rides. “You really get to see history come to life. It’s like these people are back here in their home,” Sutherland says.