Earlier this week, Pat Desmond and her sister, Julie Lawson, were discussing where a life-sized Santa figure should go — inside or on the front porch of Strasburg’s imposing Gonder Mansion.
As Lawson arranged a Charles Dickens display on a table in the library, the sisters planned a holiday decorating scheme for the first floor of the large Victorian home on Main Street.
The house is a stop on the annual Strasburg Holiday Home Tour on Dec. 7.
And that event is just one of several area tours that allow visitors a peek inside decorated private homes, businesses, historic sites and churches.
The tours raise money for the work of local nonprofits.
Here’s a look at the tours.
Strasburg Holiday Home Tour
The Gonder Mansion, the 1905 home of railroad magnate Benjamin Gonder, is a highlight of this 10th annual tour, says Lorna Mentzer, publicity chair for the event.
The annual tour benefits the preservation efforts of the Strasburg Heritage Society.
Visitors will be able to see the decorated first-floor rooms of the mansion at 130 W. Main St.
The seven-bedroom home — with its distinctive roof turrets and four interior staircases — contains many pieces of furniture, books, lamps, pianos and artwork that Demond and Lawson’s parents, Abram and Claribel Keener, found in the house when they bought it in 1968.
Desmond, who lives in the house with her husband, George, notes the home boasts oak and mahogany doorways and curved radiators.
Aside from the Gonder Mansion, Mentzer says, “We have nine houses on the tour, plus the Heritage Society’s 1792 Shroy House, which will be open, and people will be cooking over the fireplace there.”
There are 19th- and 20th-century homes to tour on Main Street, Miller Street and Village Road.
“And we have a home in Willow Street for the first time,” Mentzer says. “It’s a home that was built in 1851 on the foundation of the original Martin Meylin home,” she says. Meylin was a well-known 17th-century maker of Pennsylvania rifles.
When visitors are done with the house tour, Mentzer adds, they can visit a holiday craft market at the First Presbyterian Church, “and there’s lunch there that the Girl Scouts prepare,” she says.
And visitors can bid in a silent auction on a special experience: an open-hearth-cooked meal for six “that takes place in an 18th-century home on Main Street that used to be a tavern,” Mentzer says.
Marietta Candlelight Home Tour
The Marietta tour of homes, set for Sunday, Dec. 1, is one of the oldest in Lancaster County, says Jasmine Preston, chair of the event.
“This is our 54th annual tour,” she says. “We have eight great properties this year.
“Most of (the tour homes) are in the borough itself, with two on Front Street, four on Market, one on Gay and one on Walnut,” Preston says. “We have two apartments at the Marietta Senior Apartments on Market Street. It’s a real nice cluster of homes, so there won’t be a lot of travel for the tour guests.
“Each one is uniquely decorated with its own personality," Preston says, adding “it’s kind of a cool mix of all kinds of different kinds of decoration.”
The tour raises money for Marietta Restoration Associates, which works to restore and preserve historic structures in the borough.
One of the highlights on the tour, Preston says, is “a mansion built on North Market Street by Col. John W. Clark, a highly respected mid-19th-century entrepreneur in the borough.”
A large 1873 Victorian home on West Walnut Street, also on the tour, was built by the Fletcher brothers, she says, who “conducted a thriving grocery business” in town. And a Federal-style townhouse on Front Street dates to 1811, and was the home of a lumber merchant, Mathis Ranck.
Preston adds that tour participants can also visit the historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Old Town Hall.
There are lots of other activities going on in town during the tour, Preston adds, including an art show along with live music being played on the 1847 pipe organ at The Union Meeting House.
Craft vendors will be set up at the Pioneer Fire Company on Waterford Avenue from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the fire company will serve chicken and waffles starting at 11 a.m.
A free shuttle bus will be available to drive visitors around to all the tour stops.
Manheim Women’s Club Holiday Tour
The Manheim Women’s Club will operate a holiday house tour, as well, on Sunday, Dec. 8.
“We’ve got seven homes and two businesses,” says Linda Karns, co-chair of the event. “I really think it will be a nice tour.”
The club, which started in 1937, has organized the tour as a fundraiser for its community service projects for at least 20 years, she says.
The homes range from a 1954 Cape Cod featuring pink Indiana limestone on Ferdinand Street to a remodeled 1926 home on North Hazel Street to an 1880 home and business on Market Square.
Three of the tour homes are located on Silverwood Drive, north of Manheim and Lititz, Karns notes.
Karns says she’s excited that there are two interesting businesses on the tour.
“Waltz Vineyards, which is kind of out in the country, is a really neat place to go,” Karns says. “We thought that would be a nice business to feature.
“The other one which we’re really excited about is the REO Suites, located above the bake shop Mill 72 Bake Shop,” Karns says. The new suites, designed for out-of-town visitors, are part of the renovation of a former potato chip factory and car dealership on North Main Street.
The Prussian Street Arcade vintage vendor market recently opened there, Karn adds.
Holiday Homes on Parade
A group of builders and designers are also offering a home tour this holiday season.
The Building Industry Association of Lancaster County will highlight building, restoration, design and decor throughout the Holiday Homes on Parade tour Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5 and 6.
Tickets, proceeds from which benefit the Salvation Army’s Coats for Kids campaign, are valid for both days of the self-guided tour.
Eight decorated homes, located in Lancaster, Lititz, Landisville, Millersville, Ronks and Denver, will showcase work by Penn Stone, Kitchens by Eileen, EGStoltzfus Homes, Dutch Quality, Custom Home Group and Berks Homes.
The tour will also feature snacks and raffles for donated prizes — from a toaster to theater tickets.
Governor’s Residence Holiday Tours
Finally, the 30,000-square-foot Pennsylvania Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg kicks off the holiday season of tours with an open house Sunday, Dec. 8, featuring cider, cocoa, cookies, live music throughout the afternoon and a visit from Santa.
The neo-Georgian-style mansion on the Susquehanna River will be decorated for the holidays and include a variety of Christmas trees.
The mansion will be open for self-guided holiday tours from Dec. 9 to 20.