Even soggy weather on the coldest days can’t dampen Liberty County’s Christmas spirit.
For the second weekend in a row, Dunham Farms in Midway presented its first Holiday Festival of Lights, drawing guests to a mostly undiscovered part of Liberty County.
Friends Layla Smith and Erin Doane said they decided to check out the event to get into the holiday spirit. The pair and several other attendees viewed countless strands of lights and enjoyed Christmas music courtesy of the Ben Tucker Trio.
“This is our Christmas fun thing we do every year,” Doane said. “We always do something different every year.”
For a $10 admission fee, guests marveled at acres of illuminated farmland and explored a 1930s-era barn that has been restored and converted into a bed and breakfast.
Attendees also toured the main house and enjoyed an intimate lute concert in the home’s cozy front room. Musician Chris Kohut strummed his 19-string lute for the small audience.
Property owners Laura and Meredith Devendorf spent five weeks setting up for the festival, stringing thousands of lights around trees that dot the property.
The mother-daughter pair received help from volunteers and professionals to get the event going because if they were going to do it, they were going to do it right, Laura Devendorf said.
“We’re just Christmas fanatics,” she said. “Everything about it [Christmas] is beautiful. You just get rid of the tension and stress. It’s the most lovely time of the year. It just feels good — everything about it.”
Despite inclement weather, guests strolled the grounds, winding their way among glowing trees as instrumental Christmas music wafted from loud speakers set up near the gift shop where items like handmade soaps and jams were sold.
Gift shop volunteer Cathy Spacher has known the Devendorfs for years and said she loves to volunteer on the property and was amazed at the first-time event’s success.
“It’s been a hidden jewel,” Spacher said of the property. “Meredith and Laura’s biggest goal is to keep the natural beauty.”
Children climbed on a trailer for hayrides around the property as parents wandered through buildings containing model train sets and decorated Christmas trees.
Thirty one trees were placed in various buildings on the property, some decorated by local elementary school children who were encouraged to embellish only with items that would have been used in a certain era, Laura Devendorf said.
“We are different from most festivals and offer things people are not accustomed to having at a festival such as the pleasure of hearing Ben Tucker or listening to a lutenist play in a very comfortable and appropriate setting with good acoustics,” she said. “Plus, the wonderful trains and old houses to explore, decorated as they would have been years ago. “
Her daughter, Meredith, and a local museum curator, led tours of the plantation home that she and her mother live in on the property.
“It is a house that has evolved over time,” she told a group of about 15 people. “It is a real pleasure to share this with other people. It is a very warm and happy place.”
Guests walked through the home, pausing in every room on the lower level of the two-story house, admiring several original fireplaces, heart pine wood floors and family portraits, many of which were painted by family members.
Meredith Devendorf even pointed out a framed band her mother once wore as a Girl Scout. It was presented to her by the Air Force, as she was one of the scouts who watched out for enemy planes during World War II.
“I think that’s the cool things about living in this house,” said Meredith Devendorf. “I think having a sense of place is a very welcoming thing. I’m grateful to my parents for moving back here.”
Since the duo had never hosted a holiday festival before, the planning process for the first year was the most challenging part, Laura Devendorf said.
“We mapped everything and even measured all the trees. Next year will be much easier,” she said after the event.
“We wanted families with kids to reconnect with the magic and wonder of the season through the music, the beauty of the coast and the awe of lights and trees and simple pleasures ... We want the festival to be remarkable and a place everyone looks forward to discovering each year.”