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Dennisville Christmas House Tour connects past and present: Video

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The Crawford House, Christmas 2005. The Crawford House, Christmas 2005. The Yule Blog, Dec. 16
9 days until Christmas

Visitors to the circa 1852 Capt. Charles J. and Lydia Crawford House will get to glimpse a treasured family artifact the night of the Dennisville Historic Home Owners Association annual Christmas House Tour Saturday, Dec. 21.

The house is the featured home on the tour, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. And while all of the houses are marvels of historic preservation, the stories behind them are often even more intriguing.

Charles Crawford was a ship captain who ferried goods across the Delaware Bay and Delaware River between Philadelphia and Dennisville, where he lived with his wife, their four children, and Lydia’s father, Joseph.

According to information provided by the homeowners association, Crawford spent many years at sea, and he always took his Bible with him – a volume he called “Charles Crawford’s Book.” He marked his favorite passages with locks of hair, dried flowers, small twigs, leaves and such.

The Bible was passed down through the generations and wound up in California, but a family descendant who lives in Dennisville has brought it home. The Bible was rebound as opposed to being restored so as to retain his keepsake markers in place, according to the association, and it will be on display during the tour.

The association’s website says that records from Ancestry.com indicate that Crawford married Lydia Goff on July 17, 1850, purchased the land the house is on in 1851 for $110, and build the home a year later.

The original house was comprised of a single room downstairs and two small rooms upstairs with no interior plumbing. Later the same year, the kitchen was built, but it was originally unattached.

Crawford died in 1878. Lydia remained in the home, and according to a newspaper report she enlarged it in 1881. Her daughter Ella married Levi Wentzell, and the house remained in the Crawford-Wentzell families until 1919 when it was sold to Paul Tomlinson of Millville for $700.

Many years later, in July 1988, the house had fallen into disrepair and was slated for demolition, with the land to be put up for sale. The house had underdone many additions, but in the years since it had been neglected. Windows were broken, doors were missing, there were holes in the roof and walls, and the floorboards had rotted away and were open to the dirt below. Overgrown trees and shrubbery hid the house almost entirely from view.

But Jerry McManus and a co-worker, Jack Connolly, saw the building and had other ideas. They bought it and set out to restore and improve the home.

One of their earliest projects after closing in the house was the construction of a two-car garage. In 1990 they rebuilt a sun porch that had most likely been added in the 1930s. A modern addition consisting of a master bedroom suite, an office, a family room and a laundry room was added in 1995.

The kitchen contains a working wood and coal cook stove. The kitchen contains a working wood and coal cook stove.

Newer fireplaces and stoves were added. Guests will be able to observe an authentic operating kitchen wood and coal cook stove in the kitchen burning the night of the tour.

Here’s where it gets truly interesting.

The 1881 parlor contained a caged area below grade in which the previous owner’s two monkeys were placed when company arrived. A co-worker of one of the current owners remembers seeing the monkeys from the school bus while riding on the way to school. Sadly, when the present owners started the restoration, they unearthed the remnants of the caged area and the skeletons of the two monkeys.

Even the outbuildings are dressed for Christmas. Even the outbuildings are dressed for Christmas.

The original outhouse remains on the property and now serves as a garden shed. There are two other outhouses that were brought to the property to serve as storage buildings. The owners salvaged the original root cellar and converted it into a koi pond.

For a sneak preview of the homes on the tour in a video presentation set to holiday music, click Dennisville 25th anniversary Christmas House Tour slideshow.

The house tour will also feature at least seven other period homes. Ticket holders will receive a walking tour program and map when they purchase their tickets.

The houses will be open 4-9 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the Dennisville Post Office, 24 Hall Ave., the night of the tour only starting at 3:30 p.m. Greeters will distribute programs and assist tour goers, and carolers in period costume will provide the sounds of the season.

A soup and sandwich supper will be available at the South Dennis Trinity United Methodist Church from 3 p.m. until the food runs out. The price is $8 for adults and $3.50 for children under 12. 

Refreshments will be available at two comfort stations, the Dennisville United Methodist Church Social Hall and at the Dennis Volunteer Fire Company, where equipment will be on display and hot drinks will be available.

Alice Balanger McGuigan's "Historic Dennisville: A Walking Tour" will be available for purchase at the ticket center.

Information and directions are available on the Dennisville Historic Home Owners Association website at http://dhhoa.dennistwp.org/. For other information call Jack Connolly at 609-861-1338 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

In case of inclement weather see http://dhhoa.dennistwp.org/dhhoatour.htm.

The Yule Blog is a day-to-day countdown to Christmas featuring a new story each day. Click the links below to read other stories in the series.

Nov. 29: Best shopping apps put you where the buys are.

Nov. 30: Small Business Saturday gives independent shops their turn to shine.

Dec. 1: Before there was 'Elf,' there was 'The Santaland Diaries.'

Dec. 2: Historic Smithville has plenty of old-fashioned Christmas spirit to go around

Dec. 3: Earth-friendly gifts help preserve the world's green assets.

Dec. 4: Great gift ideas for the cook

Dec. 5: Let Cape May kindle your Christmas spirit

Dec. 6: The worst and the weirdest Christmas films

Dec. 7: How to take the perfect holiday portrait

Dec. 8: Will South Jersey have a White Christmas in 2013?

Dec. 9: Don't risk a home fire this winter

Dec. 10: In the kitchen with grandma: How to make 6-layer Neapolitan cookies

Dec. 11: 12 (relatively) new songs for Christmas

Dec. 12: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 1

Dec. 13: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 2

Dec. 14: How to make Razzleberry Dressing

Dec. 15: Last-minute make-it gift: Peppermint Patty Martini

Dec. 16: Dennisville Christmas House Tour connects past and present

Dec. 17: Snow day survival guide

Dec. 18: Best all-time Christmas songs

Dec. 19: 5 handy gifts for the home baker

Dec. 20: Cookie swaps sweeten the holidays if you can avoid the jams

Dec. 21: When will Santa get here? Track his flight Christmas Eve with NORAD

DEc. 22: Presents for pets - and pet lovers

Dec. 23: Best children's books get to the heart of Christmas

Dec. 24: Feast of the 7 Fishes is a Christmas Eve tradition for many Italians

Dec. 25: People all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus


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