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Historic homes tour, high tea to offer trade -- toys for poinsettias

Get into the holiday spirit and take the Historic Homes Tour and Progressive High Tea this year.

It should be better than ever.

Duluth's historic bed and breakfast inns will throw open their doors over the two-day event, which will be held on two Sundays -- Dec. 3 and Dec. 10.

The historic homes will be decorated to the nines for the Christmas season, and live music at each location will only enhance the celebration of the holidays.

The food should be excellent, too. Exchange Catering is providing the fare this year. The menu includes such delicacies as chicken cashew puff, smoked turkey croissant with cranberry wild rice sauce, cranberry apple coffee cake and pumpkin cheese cake. Each home will serve one item on the menu during the progressive tour.

There will be a chance for giving, too. If participants bring an unwrapped toy worth $15 to the event, they can exchange it for a colorful poinsettia donated by Engwall's.

The toys will be given to Toys for Tots to help families provide for their children at Christmas.

"It's a nice, kind of shared event," said Kim Aparicio, who owns the Cotton Mansion with her husband, Ken and has been one of the major organizers for the homes tour and progressive tea.

Aparicio said when she first started organizing the homes tour and progressive tea last year, there wasn't time to arrange for a toy exchange.

"This year, we knew we were going to do this event, and Engwall's stepped up to the plate," she said.

Rod Saline, owner of Engwall's, said the whole project "is a great opportunity to have our Engwall-grown poinsettias on display in such a beautiful, historical manner." He also said that donating the colorful plants to help Toys for Tots at Christmas only adds to the value of the project. "We're glad to do it," he said.

"It was really a nice addition to this year's tea," said Barb Trueman, who, with her husband, Don, runs the Olcott House, one of the bed and breakfasts on the tour. "Kim is so creative. She came up with this great plan that could benefit everyone, and we all think about children at Christmas. It's just perfect."

Aparicio said bringing a toy to exchange for a poinsettia "just gives another dimension to seeing these old homes. That's really what Duluth is known for -- it's one of the best cities in the state because of its rich history."

Certainly, the decorations in the homes will reflect these historic traditions.

At the A. Charles Weiss House, for example, Victorian era decorations and candles will create the mood of the season. Trueman said the interior of the Olcott House will feature a variety of Christmas decorations, and the exterior will again glow in the dark. The residence was a runner-up in last year's Christmas lighting contest, she said.

Aparicio said she is just beginning to decorate the house. This year, the library will feature a Victorian playroom scene with large toy soldiers. "It's really kind of fun stuff," she said.

Each Sunday is divided into two sessions: 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Participants visit four homes in that period.

"Two of them are right next to each other, so you only have to move your car once," said Alan Fink, owner, with his wife, Peg, of the Mathew S. Burrows House.

It's a self-guided tour of each of the inns. "Each will have a different type of live music," he said. "'Two Violins and a Viola,' a local group of teachers will perform here, the Weiss Inn is going to have classical guitar, the Olcott House will have choral groups, and I'm sure there will be a piano player somewhere since four of the inns have grand pianos."

Fink said the tour is a lot of fun, both for the owners as well as their guests.

"Everybody enjoyed it so much," he said. "There's a different food and beverage at each location, and it wasn't rushed. It's kind of a casual way to enjoy the beginning of the holidays."

It's also a wonderful way to get into the Christmas spirit, said Peg Kirsch Lee, owner, with her husband Dave Lee, of the A. Charles Weiss Inn.

"It's such a wonderful time of the year," she said. "Everyone's so excited and happy. I just think Victorian homes are kind of magical during Christmas."

Reservations are required, and Aparicio advises to get them in early. Last year, the event sold out, which is why it is being held on two days this year, she said, but the first Sunday session is already almost sold out.

Tickets are $24.50 per person. Reservations can be made by calling 724-6405. Reservations also must be made to trade a toy for a poinsettia.

NEWS TO USE

The Historic Homes Tour and Progressive High Tea will be held Dec. 3 and Dec. 10. Two sessions will be held each day: 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Inns participating on Dec. 3 are Manor on the Creek, The Mathew S. Burrows House, the A.G. Thomson House and the Cotton Mansion.

On Dec. 10, visitors will tour the Olcott House, the Cotton Mansion, Manor on the Creek and the A. Charles Weiss Inn.

Participants who bring an unwrapped toy worth $15 or more can trade it for a poinsettia or enter a drawing for a one-night stay at an inn.

Tickets for the event are selling quickly, so get your reservations in early. Tickets are $24.50 per person. For more information and for reservations, call 724-6405.

Joan Farnam is the Budgeteer community page editor. Contact her at 723-1207 or joan.farnam@duluth.com.

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