Southington's Barnes Museum gives a glimpse into Christmas’ past

SOUTHINGTON — The Barnes Museum is decorated in a vintage Gilded Age theme for the holiday season. “Christmas from the Front” is their featured exhibit for the month of December, displaying Captain Andrew Upson’s letters home during the Civil War.

A live reading of the letters along with live music and refreshments will be held on Dec. 16 at 6 p.m, with $8 admission. Drop-in tours are also available Wednesday through Friday from 1-5 p.m. through December.

The museum is also hosting a private meet and greet with Santa Claus with food and refreshments on Dec. 17, and a vintage gift wrapping on Dec. 9 and Dec. 16 from 1-4 p.m. Pre-registration for both events is required, and tickets can be purchased online at the museum’s website.

At the gift wrapping, museum staff will adorn the presents you take in a Gilded Age style while guests tour the museum. Currently they’re charging $10 for three gifts and $20 for six.

The Christmas celebrations at the museum have proved popular. The scheduled Gilded Age-themed tea parties have both been entirely sold out.

Organizers at the museum decorated the museum in both a Gilded Age and World War II-era Christmas theme, with an authentic tree and ornaments from the time period. They were inspired to commit to the theme after getting a loan of the vintage ornaments from a private collector.

Curators hope the unique atmosphere of the museum will take visitors back to experience how people used to celebrate Christmas in the past — at several key moments in the nation’s history.

“It’s so special because this is such a unique place where it really feels like you’re stepping into another time period,” said curator Christina Volpe. “It’s all historical, and it’s really special to be able to give people that experience, especially during the holiday season when the house comes to life with holiday decor and antiques from Christmas past.”

The 1940s tree shows a glimpse of how people had to get creative when rationing resources during the war, making ornament toppers out of cardboard to conserve metals for the war effort.

A number of other historical artifacts from the Barnes family will be on display, such as various dresses and exhibits explaining how they celebrated the holiday during the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Upson’s correspondence letters are the highlight this year though, Volpe said, as they provide an interesting perspective on the holiday from the period, a turbulent time in the nation’s history. 

“We have copious amounts of his letters and correspondence during the war. So we’ll be talking about that as well as the history of Christmas in the 1860s, which is really when it started here in the country,” Volpe said. “Captain Andrew Upson graduated from Yale in 1849, and so his writing is really incredible, and very well articulated. He really dives into this stuff.”

Other rooms in the house are given their own festive theme, such as one fashioned with gold decor another filled with poinsettia flowers. Preparation for their holiday-themed exhibits has been ongoing since November, and volunteers say it breathes new life into the museum for returning guests.

“As soon as you walk in here, you step into the past and each room has a little touch of different time periods,” Emily Morrone said, a volunteer, “It was really exciting to take a step back and realize what people went through during those times and also just to see how they lived. It’s really cool.”

Further details on the holiday programming can be found online at the Barnes Museum


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