When the National Christmas Center officially reopens Friday at Stone Gables Estate in Elizabethtown, attendees might feel like they’re stepping into a time machine.

They’ll stand before nearly life-sized replicas of Columbia storefronts from the mid-20th century, including Woolworth’s and Watt & Shand. Inside those storefronts is a treasure trove of vintage toys, dolls, decorations, cash registers and model train sets that will evoke memories from holidays past.

More than 1,000 people have already purchased tickets to take in all that Christmas spirit.

“It just creates these incredible memories for people and just takes them back to their childhood,” says Stone Gables owner David Abel.

The National Christmas Center will reopen on select dates beginning Friday. It’s the first time the attraction will open since its relocation from Paradise in 2018 to the rebuilt Belmont Barn on Stone Gables Estate. The center underwent extensive renovations, restorations and additions building on an already impressive collection of Christmas memorabilia curated by Jim Morrison, founder of the original location.

Morrison says it was unbelievable when David Abel bought the museum after the Paradise location became too much to keep going.

“It couldn’t be in better hands. It’s beyond anything I thought it could ever be,” says Morrison. “I just wanted it to continue because It’s such a wholesome family thing.”

Morrison continues to work at the center and will be at there to greet people and talk about the collection and Christmas.

“There’s so much to see,” says Morrison. “People are speechless when they go through. I’m blown away myself. The detail is incredible.”

Everything and more

New additions to the collection are coupled with the restored collection of the original Christmas Center. Additions include those newly constructed 17-foot-tall replica Columbia storefronts, including replicas of Byer’s Bakery, Joe, the Motorist’s Friend, Heinemann’s Men’s Shop and Dave Barton’s Barber Shop. Also new is a doll house emporium, a toy store, more than a dozen large clockwork Santa Claus figures and more than a thousand nativity scenes.

“There are a lot of fabulous additions. It’s everything that was at the Christmas Center and more. It’s beyond expectations,” says John Enterline, the executive curator of the National Christmas Center. “This is the ultimate place for Christmas.”

Enterline says people should plan to spend about two hours to be able take in the museum’s a massive collection of Christmas ornaments, nativity scenes, antique toys and decorations.

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A Santa riding a car was used to advertise in store fronts before pre-animation became available.

The story of Christmas

Visitors will be able see all the latest additions at the Christmas Center and the Stone Gables Estate during the grand opening Friday and Saturday. The event includes a bus or trolley ride through a 3-mile light show on the way to the center and a traditional German-style Christkindl market with vendors offering handmade crafts and ornaments. Food and drink like s’mores, hot chocolate and coffee will be for sale along the Estate’s Liberty Lake area, which will be dotted with fire pits.

“We want to make it a fun family activity,” says Abel. “And tell the true meaning of Christmas, which is the celebration of the birth of Christ.”

The center’s collection of more than 1,250 nativity scenes from all around the world helps to tell that story, says Abel.

“People can see the way the birth of Christ is celebrated throughout the world in their own native way,” says Abel. “It’s really powerful.”

The museum, according to Abel, also tells the story of how Lancaster County’s German roots shaped Christmas traditions in this country and how Woolworth’s introduced German Christmas ornaments to the U.S.

“Woolworth’s started here, the first ornaments were sold in Lancaster, the first Christmas trees were grown here,” says Abel. (Woolworth’s first store was in Utica, New York, but the Lancaster location was the company’s first successful five-and-dime store. A Columbia location later opened.)

Personal history

The museum is filled with Lancaster County history as well as some of Abel’s own personal history.

“When I was a little boy, I got my hair cut at Dave Barton’s Barber Shop in Columbia, so we have a child’s barber seat with a little horse you sit in,” says Abel.

The center’s model train set is sure to invoke feelings of nostalgia in adults and make new memories for children. But one of the cars on the train track has a special connection to Abel’s childhood.

“In the train display room, Jim Morrison showed me a green dump car that he bought from a young teenage boy,” says Abel. “He showed me this rare green dump car, and then reminded me that little boy was me. He bought it from me for his Lionel train, and it’s on the track running on the National Christmas Center. I was like, ‘Hey wait a minute, that was rare? You never told me that when you paid me 15 bucks!’”

Titanic collection

The National Christmas Center conveys the excitement of the holiday shopping experience with its extravagant, over-the-top department store and toy store display scene. The museum boasts a massive collection of toy soldiers, dolls and dollhouses and model trains. But one model really stands out — the huge model of the Titanic located in the replica boy’s toy store.

The epic Titanic model is 22-feet long, 9-feet tall and weighs 5,500 lbs. Viewers can get a 360-degree view of the model and learn about the history of the Titanic. The model, known as a builder’s model, was commissioned by the Belfast-based shipbuilding company Harland and Wolff – the same company that built the Titanic.

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This replica model of the RMS Titanic is set to 1/48th scale, is 18 feet in length and weighs 1,500 pound, has more than 3,376,000 rivets, and was commissioned by Harland & Wolff of Belfast, Northern Ireland who approached Fine Art Models to build this piece that includes more than 8 miles of fiber optic cables to light the piece.

“It has the letter from Harland and Wolff. They actually commissioned this. It’s the only builder’s model of the original Titanic in the world,” says Abel. “My friend was commissioned by Harland and Wolff to build it, and when he died, his son called us up three years later and said, ‘I believe our father’s greatest treasure should belong to you and be part of the National Christmas Center.’”

Abel says people continually call him to see if he’d be interested in adding unique items to the collection. Two brothers reached out to Abel about the possibility of adding to the National Christmas Center collection two mint condition 1956 speedboats made by the Trojan Boat Company, which had a plant in Lancaster,.

The center’s extensive collection of vintage Christmas items is sure to bring the holiday spirit, as the lyrics from classic Christmas song go, to kids “from 1 to 92.”

“It’s really meant to bring the awe and wonder out in the child in every human heart,” says Abel. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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