Decking the Halls: Ellwood House holiday tours run through Dec. 12

DeKALB – Before decorating their own homes for the holidays, friends Lois Miller and Sue Guio, both of DeKalb, have been spending their free time decorating the Ellwood House Museum.

Members of Hillcrest Covenant Church in DeKalb, the two women and volunteers from the church helped decorate the entry door, main hallway and rotunda of the Ellwood House, 409 N. First St. in DeKalb.

About 20 rooms inside the home built in 1879 were decorated for the holidays by 17 organizations and volunteer groups from the community. This year’s decorating color scheme is blue, white and silver.

“I usually decorate my house Scandinavian for the holidays, and decorating the Ellwood House is a much bigger venue,” Miller said.

“It’s also fun getting to work with other people and being creative together,” said Guio. “Every room is different, and it’s nice to see how other groups decorate every year.”

Guided tours are offered by appointment at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays until Dec. 12. To book a tour, call 815-756-4609 or visit at least one day in advance of your intended visit.

Tours begin in the visitor center, located behind the mansion. Each tour lasts approximately one hour. After the tour, each group is welcome to explore two floors of exhibits in the visitor center galleries. Face masks and social distancing are required when inside the Ellwood House and the visitor center. Hand sanitizer will be provided.

The annual Holiday Traditions Weekend will be held Dec. 3-5. Visitors must reserve their entry time in advance for a self-guided tour. Docents and volunteers will be in each room to guide the way and share history.

Tickets for all tours cost $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 17 and free for children age 5 and younger and for museum members.

Highlights of the decorated mansion include a 12-foot tree in the living room, handmade crafts in the basement hallway made by all 180 DeKalb School District second-grade students, a global-themed laundry room decorated by Northern Illinois University’s Network of Nations, a peacock-themed bedroom and bathroom decorated by Anna-Marie Zurlinden and her mother, a dainty feminine bedroom nicknamed “Patty’s Room” decorated in pink by the Genoa Guest House and a festive third floor ballroom decorated by the DeKalb Area Garden club featuring artificial sweets and treats on display.

Brian Reis, Ellwood House executive director, said the money raised from tours will help repair the mansion, including repairing wooden balustrades on the exterior of the house and indoor restoration work. Reis was told that historically restoring the mansion will cost approximately $5 million.

“After not being able to hold the event last year due to the pandemic, I think everyone decorated a little bit more than usual this year,” Reis said. “Every year, we have a new decorating color scheme, so it’s never the same. It’s always different, so people want to come back to see the house.”

Reis described the holiday tours as “a fun and festive way to learn about the Ellwood family and DeKalb history.”

“It also helps you get into the holiday spirit,” he said. “This tradition would not be possible without the volunteers, organizations, groups and clubs that decorate. It’s a way for them to get the word out about what they do as well as celebrate the holidays creatively and festively with the community.”

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.