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Cedar Rapid's Brucemore Mansion holiday tours recognized as one of the best in the nation

Hudson Boggs, 6, of Cedar Rapids has his photo taken with Santa during a holiday event at Brucemore Mansion in Cedar Rap
Hudson Boggs, 6, of Cedar Rapids has his photo taken with Santa during a holiday event at Brucemore Mansion in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. Families visited with Santa, made holiday crafts and listened to Christmas stories in the historic mansion, which has been decorated for the holiday season. Bill Cooper of Cedar Rapids played the part of Santa for the evening. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Brucemore, Iowa’s only National Trust Historic Site, was recently recognized as one of the Top 10 “Best Holiday Historic Home Tours,” in the country by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards, joining the ranks of famous attractions like Graceland — Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis, Tenn. — and the Stetson Mansion — the home of famed hat maker John B. Stetson.

Each holiday season, the mansions are decorated according to the Christmas traditions of the early 1900s, said Brucemore Museum Program Manager Jessica Peel-Austin.

“It’s a really special time of year, because we really go all out on the holiday decorations,” Peel-Austin said. “Each room in the house is decorated with all kinds of holiday decorations and there are Christmas trees in each room, so it’s really, really festive and really beautiful.”

“We also want to share the traditions that the families who lived here celebrated, and how they enjoyed their holiday season, so we put out special collections objects — items that don’t normally get seen on our regular tours during the rest of the year — and we talk a lot about holiday entertaining and family traditions and holiday traditions,” she added.

The tour is so well loved, Peel-Austin said many visitors return each year, making the tour part of their holiday tradition.

“And it’s so exciting to see families carrying on that legacy,” she said.

The Brucemore mansion was built in the mid-1880s by a rich widow named Carolyn Sinclair. Peel-Austin said the Sinclair family made its fortune in the meat packing industry.

The home later was bought by the Douglas family who founded Douglas Starch Works, a company that produced cooking starch and oil, laundry starch, animal feed and soap. The Douglas family owned the mansion and estate until 1981, when the home was given to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“And since then it’s been open as a community cultural center and historic house museum,” Peel-Austin said.

Annually, Brucemore provides the opportunity for visitors to celebrate the season beginning the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve.

“It’s one of our favorite times of the year,” Peel-Austin said. “We love decorating the mansion and we love celebrating the holiday traditions of the families who lived here at Brucemore. So, being able to share that with so many people is really wonderful.”

And, being recognized for their work is just the cherry on top, she added.

“It’s a huge honor to be considered a part of that list,” she said. “You know we’re a really unique organization here in Cedar Rapids, there isn’t really any place else like the Brucemore here, or really across the state. So, it’s a huge honor to be included in that list and to be recognized as one of these holiday tours that people really enjoy.”

This year, visitors can enjoy the seasonal splendor of all four floors of the 1880s mansion, including 13 glowing trees, a dining room set for Christmas dinner, the lush garland adornment of the grand staircase, and other holiday cheer.

Holiday tours are available beginning at 10 a.m. — with the last tour starting 3:20 p.m. — on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week. Admission is $12 for adults and $5 per student ages 6 to 18. Each tour is limited to 16 people and reservations are recommended.

Brucemore also offers Music in the Mansion Holiday Tours, which feature live music on the newly restored 1929 Skinner Player Pipe Organ. Those are offered at 5:30 p.m. this Thursday and from noon to 3:20 p.m. this Sunday. Admission is $15 per adult and $10 per student, ages 6 to 18 if bought in advance. If available day-of, tickets at the door are $20, but reservations are highly recommended.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.brucemore.org or call (319) 362-7375.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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