Lincoln Tallman House dressed up for holiday tours

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, December 20, 2013

JANESVILLE—If the thought of decorating your home for Christmas is overwhelming, imagine decorating a 26-room mansion.

Rock County Historical Society staff and volunteers spent about 150 hours over two days transforming the Lincoln Tallman House into an example of Victorian holiday splendor, said Andrea Miller, operations manager.

"We had up to 20 volunteers for six hours the first day and another five volunteers over six hours the second day," she said.

"We had four men carry up all the boxes and Christmas trees stored in a large room from the basement," Miller said.

Ladders were required to hang garland at the front of the house, a task she assigned to a 6-foot 6-inch volunteer, she said.

The 1850s Victorian home represents a time when the pace of life was slower.

Visitors will learn about the William Morrison Tallman family, why they were important to Rock County and Christmas traditions popular during the time the Tallman family lived in the mansion, Miller said.

They'll also learn about Abraham Lincoln's visit in October 1859 prior to his election in 1860 and why he stayed at the Tallman House, she said.

The tour will feature the following four Christmas trees:

-- A tabletop Civil War-era Christmas tree decorated with handmade ornaments in the parlor.

"It's decorated with household things that would have been readily found in and around Wisconsin such as apples, popcorn and cranberries," Miller said.

Homemade wooden toys, including blocks, dominoes, a Jacob's ladder and pull toys sit on the cloth skirt beneath the tree.

-- Another tree sits in the corner of the drawing room where the local family greeted Abraham Lincoln during his 1859 visit.

"He felt uncomfortable in this formal room so was asked to be taken into the parlor," Miller said.

-- The 12-foot tree in the library is decorated with 500 glass ornaments, 100 feet of garland and 100 candles that would have been lit only on Christmas Eve.

"The colorful glass Christmas ornaments were popular at the time--1870s when the style of Christmas trees featured a German culture influence,” Miller said.

A bucket sits between the tree and fireplace where water was kept in case the tree caught on fire.

--A large tree decorated with white lights, white and crystal ornaments plus fake snow stands at the end of the second-floor hallway in front of vast windows facing North Jackson Street.

"Christmas trees decorated in all white became popular around the turn of the century," Miller said.

"They would scrape paint off colorful ornaments to get them white," she said.

The dining room table is set for Christmas dinner, which was the midday meal.

"The family ate breakfast and their last meal of the day in a less formal room known as the tea room," Miller said.

Garland, accented with red bows wrapped around the stairway, leads guests to the second floor of this historic home.

In the basement canning room, guests will get to see where Tallman family staff created holiday decorations on the top of a lengthy butcher-block table.

"It's important to know local history and about the house," Miller said. "The holiday tours at the Lincoln Tallman House provide that opportunity."

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