The Star-Herald

Vera Estey Victorian house tour acts as a gateway to the past

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Those who visited the Vera Estey house over the weekend got a taste of what it was like for the financially affluent in Presque Isle during the Victorian era.

On Friday and Saturday night, the Presque Isle historical society hosted their 6th annual Victorian Christmas tour at the Vera Estey house at 16 Third St. Volunteers wore period appropriate attire, and informed guests not only about what Christmas was like during the Victorian Era, but also about Vera Estey and her experiences in Presque Isle.

“I used to go to the Victorian mansion in Portland during Christmas time,” Presque Isle resident Tamia Glidden said. “Now, we have this beautiful slice of Victorian life right in our backyard.”

When Vera Estey died, it was stipulated in her will that her house be turned into a historical museum. While the historical society has done countless tours of the house since they received it in 1994, they began doing the holiday tours in 2016. 

This year, the historical society decided to scatter decorations related to “The 12 Days Of Christmas” throughout the house. There are 12 rooms on the tour, so it was one themed decoration per room.

When guests enter the house, they are immediately greeted with the Estey kitchen, which features a Star Kineo wood stove, and a monitor top refrigerator. Both of these were signs of wealth during the Victorian Era, as it was customary to show one’s wealth, rather than to tell. 

All the while, guests could partake in a hot cup of Wassail, a traditional holiday beverage consisting of apple cider, and various juices and spices. Lucky guests might have even heard volunteers sing a few verses of the “Wassail Song.” 

Moving into the dining area gave guests a look at Christmas tree garlands and poppers, which normally contained a small toy, sweet treat or riddle inside. The walls were decorated with not only photographs, but paintings and needlepoints as well. Those paintings and needlepoints were all done by either Vera or her mother. 

The middle parlor is a room on the tour that changes every year. Secretary Treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical society Kim Smith has changed the theme of the room every year, and has never repeated a theme. This year, it was Victorian Santa, where Smith spoke about Santa’s origins, revealed drawings, and featured countless Santa statues, all coming from Smith’s own collection.

The front parlor welcomed guests with comforting Christmas tunes played on piano, and a Christmas tree decorated with traditional ornaments from the era (many of which were edible), along with volunteer Annalise Wardell, who was explaining the tree’s decorating history, while doing some needlepoint sewing.

“I just got back from college as a theater major,” Wardell said . “Those of us in the acting field have not had much to do, and I did a lot of period work in college, so it’s really fun to do this.”

Heading upstairs, guests could see both Vera’s childhood bedroom, as well as her parent’s bedroom, each with volunteers eagerly waiting to tell the history of the room and of the Estey family. 

The tour concluded in the back bedroom past a small bathroom. There, Presque Isle Historical Society President Craig Green was selling peppermint pigs, a sweet, but not overpowering peppermint confection that, like the name suggests, is in the shape of a pig. 

“I think the holidays give people the chance to remember their loved ones and their own childhoods,” Green said. “ It’s a chance to remember simpler times and the memories that go along with that.”

Last year, the tour did not have volunteers in costumes. Only Green and Smith guided the tours, but having costumed volunteers back has been a welcomed return to normalcy.

“Our crowds aren’t back up to what they were before the pandemic,” Smith said, “but I am really pleased to be back to some semblance of normal. It’s better having new reenactors, who bring in a whole new audience of people.”

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — December 11, 2021 — President of the Presque Isle Historical Society board Craig Green is dressed in traditional Victorian attire in the upstairs of the Vera Estey house. (David DiMinno | The Star-Herald)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — December 11, 2021 — Ann Cushman puts together Christmas garlands inside the Vera Estey house.  (David DiMinno | The Star-Herald)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — December 11, 2021 — Debbie Lamont, is wearing a Victorian night outfit, in Vera Estey’s childhood room inside the Vera Estey house. (David DiMinno | The Star-Herald)

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