Whether you’re looking for something different to do in a day trip or ways to entertain out-of-town relatives over the holidays, home tours offer a diversion from winter’s unpredictable weather and home decorating ideas.
You’ll find holiday décor, old-fashioned charm and traditions from bygone eras at these scenic venues. Take your pick of a seasonal excursion close to home or plan a weekend getaway to a historic spot across the state.
Grand Ledge treasure hunt
Just west of Lansing, Grand Ledge was settled in the mid-1800s as a resort town on the Grand River. Made up of several islands, the setting boasts annual festivals and other activities to highlight significant buildings such as the Grand Ledge Opera House, which originally served as a roller rink.
“Our claim to fame is the 60-foot sandstone ledges,” says Marilyn Smith, who is co-chair of the 2015 Holiday Traditions Tour.
The 41st annual tour, Dec. 5 and 6, provides the perfect introduction to this quaint location that is also known for its historic homes and specialty stores housed in refurbished old buildings.
“They try to keep the feel of the Victorian period. Grand Ledge has a small town feel and there’s not a lot of industry. It’s sort of a bedroom community to Lansing,” Smith says.
The 41st annual Holiday Traditions Tour offers a little of everything — from a seasonal assortment of beautifully decorated tables and trees at the Opera House to a variety of enticing homes and other structures.
“People outdo themselves with the china, crystal and silver. Some are holiday tables; others might be set for a children’s tea. It’s a big hit,” says Smith.
Among the historic homes slated for this year’s tour is a dwelling that dates to the late 1800s. Another residence that has been completely redone is filled with antiques combined with newer finds.
“It’s very eclectic,” Smith says. “We try to show a large house that will be a draw, a small home that shows what you can do, and an in-between house. There is something that each person can relate to: One might be Victorian, another folk and one contemporary.”
Each year another highlight of the tour is a business situated in a building that’s been restored or demonstrates something creative like adaptive reuse. This time, it will be a former church turned into a brew pub.
The area has a lot to offer, such as the Farm to Table exhibit at the Grand Ledge Historical Society Museum.
“Grand Ledge is a unique town. People come from all over Michigan to climb the ledges and ride the riverboat,” Smith says.
Check for other holiday festivities, such as Christmas concerts, at grandledgechamber.com.
Meadow Brook revisited
Not everyone has the privilege of living in a luxurious dwelling, but it sure can be alluring to tour one.
Shannon O’Berski, director of marketing and community relations for Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester, says a historic home tour is more memorable when you get a sense of the people behind it.
“A family really lived here and you feel really welcome. It’s like a museum in the sense that people want to come, but first and foremost, it’s a home,” she says.
A National Historic Landmark, Meadow Brook was built in the 1920s by Matilda Dodge Wilson, the widow of automobile pioneer John Dodge, and her second husband, lumber broker Alfred Wilson.
Today, it serves as one of the finest examples of Tudor-revival architecture in America.
Each year, the Holiday Walk at Meadow Brook Hall features a different theme, and the 44th annual Holiday Walk exhibit, Set for the Holidays, will showcase a variety of tablescapes to emulate what the original family would have done for the holidays and other special occasions.
The rest of the decorations will not disappoint.
“The décor always complements the exhibits,” O’Berski says. “We want to keep it fresh.”
Self-guided tours that let visitors go at their own pace include the grounds, with other structures on the property open for viewing.
“You literally go over the bridge and through the woods,” she adds, regarding some of the exquisite features on the expansive estate.
This holiday season, fairy tales will be a theme at the site’s playhouse.
“It’s something kids can enjoy. It’s the perfect setting,” she says.
The holiday shops at Meadow Brook Hall let you purchase some of the pieces seen on display to deck the halls in your own home.
Whether you’re a design enthusiast, a history buff, or simply trying to get into the holiday spirit, you’re sure to be inspired by the 88,000-square-foot, 110-room regal residence.
“It’s become a legacy, but it’s still very much a home. You feel that when you come here,” O’Berski says.
Holiday tours are offered daily Nov. 27-Dec. 23. See meadowbrookhall.org for details. ≈
Jeanine Matlow is a freelance writer who lives in the Detroit area.
Get a closer look at more statewide gems that take you through the holiday season and beyond.
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House
In addition to a selection of year-round tours and strolls, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores offers three holiday events in December that will delight the senses.
First, there’s Winter Wonderland, complete with carolers, hot chocolate and Santa. The Tea & Tour consists of a holiday house tour followed by a light meal. Finally, the estate hosts a Nutcracker Tea that features a child-friendly tea and tour. fordhouse.org
Lumber baron tours in Muskegon
The Hackley & Hume Historic Site features the restored homes of Muskegon’s well-known lumber barons. Built in the late 1800s, the homes will be decorated for the holidays and open for tours during the last weekend of November and December.
The Hackley house, shown below, which is the more ornate of the two homes, is furnished to reflect the late 1800s, while the Hume family home reflects the 1920s. Decorations include items from the museum’s collection and reproduction pieces.
The homes also are open for tours May through October. lakeshoremuseum.org
Though holiday tours aren’t a feature, you can schedule an appointment to tour Laurium Manor Inn in the Keweenau Peninsula from December to April. Daily tours are offered May through October.
The 13,000-square-foot, 45-room mansion, built for Thomas H. & Cornelia Hoatson, owner of Calumet & Arizona Mining Co., was completed in 1908.
No expense was spared to build the largest and most opulent of all the homes of wealthy copper mine owners. Elaborate details from a bygone era include a panoramic landscape mural, a gilded fireplace, a silver-leaf-covered dome ceiling, a large ballroom and more.
You can even plan to spend the night to experience the extravagance firsthand. Overnight guests at Laurium Manor Inn and a few other properties get a tour as part of their stay. laurium.info
Marshall Candlelight Walk
Home to one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the country, the town of Marshall hosts an annual Candlelight Walk that has sold out the last five years. This year’s walks are Dec. 12-13 at 4:30 and 6:45 p.m.
Marshall is known for its cross-section of 19th and early 20th century architecture, and its historic district includes more than 850 homes and businesses. The Candlelight Walk visits several historic homes decorated for the holiday season, with the homeowners offering personalized tours.
This ticketed event, organized by Marshall Historical Society for more than three decades, begins with a light reception at a central location. Each tour lasts about two hours as guides lead the way from house to house in a small group. The walk covers about 1.5 miles and takes place regardless of weather. marshallhistoricalsociety.org
Promenade Candlelight Home Tour
The Promenade Candlelight Home Tour Dec. 4-5 is a lovely way to spend a December evening in Tecumseh. Tours feature historic homes dressed for the season to get you in a celebratory mood. downtowntecumseh.com