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November 28, 2006 > A Patterson House Christmas

A Patterson House Christmas

Each winter, docents of the venerable Patterson House at Ardenwood Historic Farm dust off tree ornaments, knick-knacks and yuletide accoutrements as they busily prepare rooms to reflect the lifestyle of the Patterson family and decorations of a late 19th century Christmas celebration. The entire farm is open for activities, but a major highlight is the majestic home located in the center of the property. Docents devote many hours to preserving the house and grounds so the general public can “ooh and aah,” while experiencing the reality of history through Patterson House rooms and hallways. Two volunteers have more intimate memories of the house and family that inhabited its environs.

Cousins and Patterson family descendents Virginia Sargent and Leslie Buck discovered their relationship to each other just a year ago (see An Ardenwood Reunion, TCV Dec 6 – 12, 2005 located in archives at, deciding to arrange an upstairs bedroom as a of display family heirlooms. This year, these two have chosen to highlight the travels of Clara Patterson using a few of their extensive family collection of her photographs, letters and postcards in one of the downstairs front rooms. They noticed that a prominent motif of the era was holly so the room will be inviting all to witness a “Hawley (Clara’s maiden name), Holly Christmas.”  Clara, a sophisticated world traveler, reveals an impressive style and content in these missives indicative of the mores and societal differences during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Virginia notes that the display is only “the tip of the iceberg” of materials they have found. As an example of what visitors will see, the following letter was written by Clara during her travels:

S. S. Rameses
March 8, 1900

Dear Julia

We are on our way up the Nile on the upper deck of the Steamer, trying to keep cool.  The people are all sitting around in steamer chairs, with fly brushes that they get from the natives, some reading, some talking, but most of them industriously doing nothing. 

We left Luxor last evening, and have been stuck on sand bars about half the time.  Are on one now, and they sent a boatload of natives out with and anchor on the end of a cable.  They went ahead quite a way and sunk the anchor in the sand, and then would the cable on the boat.  The boat moved a few feet, but we are still here. 

They are winding the cable again, and the men are chanting in Arabic as they work.  One many sings “O, my God,” then the others respond “God give us strength.”  At least that is what some one told me they say.  They chant that way over most of their work. 

With an exotic itinerary, colorful descriptions and photographs, Clara will transport visitors back to world of Victorian etiquette and emergence of modern thought. Her extensive travels included but were not limited to a trip to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893; Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, Greece, Germany and Paris in 1900; Hawaii including the “Leper Island” in 1902; Mexico, Norway, Denmark and Sweden in 1903; and an East Coast trip in 1904 that included Toledo, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, New York and the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Patterson House Manager, Randy Hees, an enthusiastic historian of the house and time period of the farm, joined Virginia and Leslie telling others that the Historic Patterson House Foundation is constantly looking for artifacts and information relating to the early farms and people of the area. The foundation is always happy to help families with boxes of old “stuff” that need interpretation and explanation.

The “Hawley, Holly Christmas” display represents only one room of the Patterson House and only a part of holiday celebrations on the farm. Make sure you bring the family to step into the past and enjoy the magic of Ardenwood during its Christmas celebration.

Christmas at Ardenwood
Dec 1 - 3
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Christmas carols, horse-drawn train, Yule Log, Father Christmas, Patterson House
Adults $8; Seniors $6; Children $5

Christmas Patterson House Tours
Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays
Dec 8 – 17
This year, the house will be open two additional weeks. Grounds are open for picnicking and visiting farm animals.
Park Admission: Adults $2; Children $1
House Tours: Adults & Seniors $4; Children $3

A Christmas Evening at the Patterson House
Friday, Dec 8
5 p.m. – 8:45 p.m.
Open house and holiday music
Adults & Seniors, $5; Children $3 (includes park admission)

For entry fees and more information, call (510) 791-4196 (Patterson House), (510) 796-0663 (East Bay Regional Park District) or visit

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