Local historic venues can provide a space for your holiday parties and, at the same time, give your employees and guests a glimpse into their own local past.
Step into Belmont Manor in Elkridge, for example, and you’ll find holiday decorations from the 1700s. The staff decorates every room in the historic house for the holidays, then opens the first floor for office parties and other occasions.
“The house looks wonderful once all the lights and decorations are up for the holidays,” said Tyler Swavely, who helps handle events for Belmont. Businesses can also hire a decorator to work in a certain theme, as well as a caterer, since Belmont does not provide food or drinks.
An historic venue doesn’t mean a stuffy party, either, said Bobby Mitchell, vice president of Putting on the Ritz, which caters parties in the Great Room at Savage Mill, Quiet Waters Park, the Howard County Conservancy and other locations.
Mitchell said holiday partygoers these days are looking for something more creative in terms of food and activities. “We do little mini gourmet pizzas cooked right in front of people,” he said. “Avocado mahi taco stations are a big hit.”
People also enjoy entertainment that goes beyond the typical DJ and dancing. “We see lots of holiday parties bringing in gambling tables and having prizes for the high rollers,” said Mitchell. “Photo booths are always a big hit. We have done themed parties like Mardi Gras with stilt walkers and fortune tellers. People go to so many typical holiday parties that they are thrilled to see something different.”
A note for holiday planners: Call historic venues well in advance to reserve your spot.
A Party – and a History Lesson
Belmont, built in 1738, was originally the home of Caleb and Priscilla Dorsey. The manor house passed through the Dorsey, Hanson and Bruce families before being bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institute. The Smithsonian converted Belmont into a conference center, then, in 1983, the American Chemical Society purchased the property.
In 2004, Howard Community College assumed ownership while offering hospitality classes, and Belmont continued its tradition as a retreat and events center. Howard County Recreation and Parks purchased the property in 2012 and restored the manor house, which sits on 68 acres of rolling hills. The property is also home to the Howard County Conservancy.
Gather in the Kitchen
Looking to take a small group of coworkers to a special holiday function? For a more intimate, “gather-in-the-kitchen” feeling, try a visit to the Hammond-Harwood House Museum. Not only does this venue feature some of the best woodcarving and plasterwork in the country, it also is home to the culinary delights in “Mrs. Lookerman’s Kitchen,” which is, as the name indicates, the cooking epicenter at the Hammond-Harwood House.
This means, for those interested in party goodies, around the holidays, hone in on the Kitchen. The Lookerman family owned the house in the 1840s and ’50s, and visitors can experience a variety of European Christmas culinary traditions. This year, the kitchen will feature samplings of traditional sugarplums and Twelfth Night cake, wassail and Speculaas gingerbread cookies. (Speculaas cookies are a specialty of the Netherlands and Belgium — cousins of gingerbread, only lighter and more delicately spiced.)
In the past, Hammond-Harwood House has held a Christmas party that is open to the public, so keep an eye on the website for a scheduled date. The museum holds private events for its members and offers party rentals as well.
Historic, Yet Convenient
If your workload leaves you little time for event planning, consider the Waverly Mansion, in Marriottsville, and other properties handled under Catering by Uptown. Convenience pairs with historic sites as Uptown proposes a party, then provides everything from tables and chairs, to food, to decorations, to a day-of coordinator.
Pasadena is home to two other Uptown venues, Celebrations at the Bay and The Anchor Inn. A fourth location, The Villa, is in Beltsville. Uptown’s rates for events range from $10,000–$35,000, depending on your budget.
At the Waverly mansion, your party will unfold in a home built in the 1750s on land owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Nathan Browne inherited half of the land in 1756, before it was purchased by John Dorsey and willed to Nathan and Sophia Dorsey as the next owners by 1760. Col. John Eager Howard, governor of Maryland from 1788 to 1791, then owned and expanded the property, before giving it to his son, George Howard (who served as governor of Maryland from 1831 to 1833), as a wedding present in 1811.
It was then that the plantation was renamed Waverly, after the 1814 novel by Walter Scott, though Waverly’s name is, of course, an alternate spelling.
Slow Down the Pace
Many local historic venues are located in the countryside or in quiet sections of town, giving businesspeople a chance to feel like they are unwinding as they attend a holiday party.
“What makes Howard County unique is the blend of historic venues in rural and small-urban settings,” said Anthony Cords, executive director of Howard County Tourism and Promotion. “When you hold an event in one of these genuine locations, your guests tend to remember them as intimate, fun and different.”
Even Historic Oakland — in the middle of downtown Columbia — is nestled in a peaceful wooded area so partygoers will feel like they’re getting away without having to drive very far.
Oakland is one of the oldest buildings in Howard County. While the area surrounding Oakland originally was surveyed by John Dorsey in 1688, the house was built in 1811. It was one of the historic buildings that Columbia developer Jim Rouse took special care to preserve. Others include Dorsey Manor, the stone house at Wilde Lake, the Barn at Oakland Mills and Oliver’s Carriage House.