Home for the Holidays

Homeowners in Newtown, Pa., welcome visitors to the 40th annual holiday house tour Dec. 7.

By: Daniel Shearer


TimeOFF/Daniel Shearer
The Armstrong House, on South Chancellor Street, is one of the residences on the Newtown Historic Association Open House Tour.

   Ten years ago, the balloon-frame house at 231 S. Chancellor St. in Newtown, Pa., underwent a major facelift.
   Patrick Armstrong and his wife, Joyce, entered the project with a sense of humor. The couple had been living in Downingtown, Pa., but began searching for a house in Newtown Borough, mainly because Mrs. Armstrong wanted to live near family.
   "We joked a lot," says Mr. Armstrong, who started renovations shortly after purchasing the house, erected in 1875. "We called it Money Pit II.
   "This was an aluminum breadbox when we got it. They had replaced the original deck that was here with a concrete slab. It took me a day with a jackhammer to get the original porch off."
   The 8-inch aluminum siding that once covered the house is long gone, revealing a pair of rounded attic windows that had been boarded up and converted into bookshelves. Gone, too, is the original porch, replaced by a larger wrap-around porch with gingerbread trim and two entrances — one leading to the front door and another at the corner — nicely complemented by a landscaped path and outdoor furniture.
   Instead of painting the underside of the porch roof, the Armstrongs gave the wood a natural finish, continuing the hardwood theme inside with oak trim and parquet flooring.
   "I think of it more as an archeological dig sometimes," says Mr. Armstrong, a computer programmer by trade. "It was a great experience."
   Like other Chancellor Street homeowners in previous years, the Armstrongs are more than happy to share their labor of love. Their residence will be one of a dozen homes and historic sites featured in the Newtown Historic Association’s Open House Tour Dec. 7. Among other buildings, the self-guided tour takes visitors through the Tyler Mansion, a landmark example of Norman architecture, Temora Farm, an early 1700s farmhouse on the outskirts of town with outbuildings, and the Court Inn, the historic association headquarters on Court Street.
   Even a few weeks ahead of season, the Armstrongs already have some of their holiday decorations in place. A sunny room at the back of their house has a Christmas tree and an elaborate snow village, tiny houses erected on a platform. The adjoining wainscoted kitchen takes on a warm glow from tulip poplar flooring, which the Armstrongs removed from their previous property and milled.
   "People come on the tour to get ideas for the holidays, or just because people love to see the interiors of other people’s homes," says historical society member Lois Molloy, who has helped organize the house tour, in its 40th year, each December for the better part of a decade. She opened her own home on Penn Street for the tour last year, just a short walk from the historical society headquarters.


TimeOFF/Daniel Shearer
Above, the LeGrande House on Liberty Street, Newtown, Pa.

   One of the oldest buildings in Newtown, the Court Inn was the original cottage of Margaret and Joseph Thornton, constructed in the 1730s. On the day of the house tour, costumed re-enactors will conduct an open-hearth cooking demonstration in the Court Inn’s cellar kitchen, and a flutist will perform upstairs. The hand-hewn framing of the first half-story building on the site is still visible near the hearth.
   Across town, Penny LeGrande will open her house, near Newtown Methodist Church on Liberty Street, which features a landscaped backyard, a porch sun room and a living room with original hardwood flooring and exposed beams. A butterfly staircase winds upstairs to a loft, which overlooks a dining room that gets light from windows near the ceiling. Two stained-glass windows in the kitchen add a splash of color.
   Ms. LeGrande talks about the Swedish grandfather clock in her living room with obvious pride, noting the date on its face, 1847, is probably around the same time her home was built.
   "I think it was probably constructed around 1840, and the original rooms were this living room and the dining room," says Ms. LeGrande, who has been living in the house for six years. "I know that from looking at the flooring."
   This year’s tour won’t take visitors upstairs in the homes, but some owners will be in Colonial costume, some borrowed from the historic association.
   "Last year we had 1,200 people come out for the tour," Ms. Molloy says. "It was a nice day. When I looked out the door of my house, the line was way down the street. The ticket comes with a map, and we have busses running from the Stocking Works (on State Street).
   "You might do half the tour and stop for lunch. Some of our churches have bazaars, and our Court Inn always has a little gift show, where they have snacks. It’s wonderful, and you meet so many lovely people."
The Newtown Historic Association hosts its 40th Annual Open House Tour Dec. 7, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tour includes Temora Farms, Tyler Mansion, William Smith House, Borge House, Armstrong House, Michelin House, LeGrande House, Newtown Library, Newtown Presbyterian Church, Newtown Friends Boarding Home, The Court Inn and The Stocking Works. Tickets cost $15.
Advance tickets available at the Court Inn, Centre Avenue and Court Street, and at Newtown Hardware House, 106-108 S. State St. Parking available at the Stocking Works, 303 N. State St., and various locations around town. Free bus transportation departs from the stocking works. Out-of-town houses only accessible by bus. For information, call (215) 968-4004.