Keep It Local – The Reitz Home Museum

Being a history and architectural photography geek (It’s an actual term, I promise), it is common to see me in the historical downtown area of Evansville, camera in hand. So how is it possible that I had never been to the Reitz Home Museum until just recently? When I saw an ad for their Victorian Christmas, I knew it was a “must see”.

I decided to explore the Reitz Home on a Sunday, thinking it would be less crowded. Boy was I wrong! When I arrived, I was greeted by lots of directional signs, telling me exactly where I needed to be for a tour. There were some out-of-towners there at the same time and they were extremely impressed at all of the signage. In fact, one lady stated, “It’s visible but not distracting from the ambiance.” (Couldn’t have said it better myself.) After chatting with them, I decided to join their tour group. What better way to get an impartial review of the place, right? I should also mention that on this particular day, there was a 50th wedding anniversary party being held there and we still had no issues with parking or finding the correct entrances. Those critics who complain about downtown parking must not actually visit the downtown area.

Original tile porch welcomes visitors

   Original tile porch welcomes visitors

Signage is visible but not distracting.

Signage is visible but not distracting.

We began our tour in the Carriage House where we were greeted by a volunteer. Not surprising to me because I know that Evansville has lots of volunteers, but the out-of-towners were surprised. Price of an adult admission was $7.50, same as the normal price, despite the extra Christmas attractions. That is cheaper than a movie these days and there are discounts for numerous ages/groups. While the others were paying, I took a stroll around the gift shop/entry area. It was filled with reasonably priced books and souvenirs for all ages, related to local history. I didn’t get as much time to look as   Iwould have liked because the volunteer went ahead and started our tour to keep our wait time to a minimum. Friendly and conscious of our time – that’s rare these days!

Books for all ages in the gift shop.

Books for all ages in the gift shop.

The first area of our tour was the downstairs formal area of the home. Guided by a volunteer docent, we learned how a Prussian immigrant by the name of Joseph Augustus Reitz came to the area, seeking better business opportunities and more freedom from the government. He finished building the home in 1871, which he shared with his wife and eight of his ten children. Our guide explained that most of the furniture in the home was original. She pointed out the parquet flooring throughout the home and noted that it was also original. Two things caught my eye in the formal area: the stained glass windows/archways, as well as the magnificent chandeliers. Most of the rooms also had a fireplace, many of which were tile or marble. One lady in the tour group simply said, “Absolutely exquisite” upon entering each room. While I chuckled, she really did sum up the design of the home.

Formal dining room, decorated by local designer Keith Bauer.

Formal dining room, decorated by local designer Keith Bauer.

Attention to detail, even in the flooring

Attention to detail, even in the flooring

No object is too small to offer even the smallest of details.

No object is too small to offer even the smallest of details.

Each year at Christmas, local designers donate their time and materials to decorate the home, staying true to the Victorian era. Each designer is assigned one of the home’s eighteen rooms, in which to add their personal take. The home features some of the most stunning Christmas trees that I have seen, as well as the ever popular Mouse House. Loaned to the Reitz Home every year, the Mouse House was a favorite  of everyone on our tour. We were all fascinated that each piece was placed by hand upon assembling & removal each year. Not only were the decorations gorgeous, but the out-of-towners in my group loved the touch of local support for the museum. A gentleman from Boston said, “We don’t have people like this back home.” (Bravo Tri-State!)

Stunning fireplace, decorated for the holidays

Stunning fireplace, decorated for the holidays

Each piece is placed by hand in the Mouse House.

Each piece is placed by hand in the Mouse House.

Look but don't touch. Setup takes hours & is done by hand.

Look but don’t touch. Setup takes hours & is done by hand.

The 34th Annual Victorian Christmas runs through December 31st. I highly encourage everyone to visit. In fact, I plan on returning next Friday, December 20th for the self-guided Candlelight Tour. As “absolutely exquisite” as the home was during daytime hours, I can only assume it’s even more stunning by candlelight. While there, I plan on stopping by the gift shop to do some holiday shopping as well.  Visit the Reitz Museum’s Facebook page to see the full list of local designers who generously donated their time to decorate, as well as more photos. (My Iphone does not do the home justice.)

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