I felt a little bit like Ebenezer Scrooge when I visited Spartanburg
last weekend, though I had a wonderful time. Everywhere I went I was plied with Christmas cookies and warm, mulled ciders. It was hard not to get in the Christmas spirit.
So why did I feel like Scrooge? Well, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Ghost of Christmas Past was transporting me back in time.
The Spartanburg Regional History Museum
offered an amazing chance to visit three of their properties and travel through more than two centuries of Christmases at their “Christmas in Spartanburg: A History” event on Dec. 3.
First stop, the Price House and the early 19th century, where I was greeted with some “weak wassail” being heated over an open fire. (The wassail was “weak” because unlike traditional wassail, this spicy beverage was non-alcoholic.) Thomas and Ann Price built the Price House about 1795 where they ran a tavern and inn on the premises as well as a general store and post office.
Inside the Price House, candlelight glowed on the mantels beside all-natural Christmas decorations of evergreen, fruit and holly. In one of the many bedrooms a handmade red and green quilt seemed dressed for the season.
In stark contrast to the cozy, yuletide scene inside is the rough "double pen" slave cabin outside. Although the cabin is not original to the property (it was moved here from Newberry County,) it is the type of small, spare dwelling that would have housed the two dozen enslaved people who worked in the Prices’ businesses and 2000-acre plantation.
Afterwards, I am spirited away to the Seay House and to the year 1890. Unlike the home of the well-to-do Price family, the Seay House is modest. It began as a one-room log cabin when Kinsman Seay built it in the mid-19th century. When Seay passed away, he left the house and surrounding land to his three unmarried daughters – Ruthy, Patsy and Sarah. Today, the Seay House focuses on the lives of these three women and on the lives of rural women in the Carolina Upcountry
of the 1800s.
It was in the Victorian era of the Seay House that many of our Christmas traditions really took root in America. So when I walked into the Seay House its decorations were quite familiar. There, in a corner of the front room, was a hand-cut cedar Christmas tree strewn with garlands of strung popcorn. A Christmas crafts table beckoned, where you could make Victorian ornaments (like the paper snowflakes I used to make with my mom during the holidays), and a copy of Clement Moore’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas rested on one of the period end tables.
Finally it was time for my last stop, and I zipped into a futuristic living room complete with an aluminum Christmas tree. The Spartanburg Regional History Museum’s winter exhibit is Christmas in Spartanburg: the 1960s. The displays were filled with vintage toys, period furniture and decorations, including a “flower-power” wreath. But the part of the display that I found especially touching was the one wall was lined with reproductions of the Christmas Day front pages from local newspapers in the 1960s. One paper reports the Pope’s plea for peace in Vietnam; another reports that astronauts will be returning to home to Earth. It was amazing to contemplate those Christmases past, before heading back to Christmas present.
The Spartanburg Regional History Museum
is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and veterans, $2 for ages 6-17 and free for kids 5 and younger. The Christmas in Spartanburg: the 1960s exhibit runs now through Jan. 21.
The Price House and the Seay House are closed in the winter except for special events.
The Price House is open May-October on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults $3 for kids 6-17 and free for children 5 and under. The Seay House is open the third Saturday of the month, April through October, except July, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3 per person.
for more information on the Spartanburg Regional History Museum or any of its properties.