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Student-made gingerbread houses, decorations by local interior designers and a visit by Santa Claus drew hundreds of visitors to The Inn at Irwin Gardens, raising money for literacy.
The mansion’s first public Christmas Open House attracted more than 250 visitors Wednesday night for a Book Buddies fundraiser.
The program pairs adult mentors with elementary schoolchildren to help them with reading. About $450 raised from the event will be used to purchase books for the Bartholomew County Consolidated School Corp. program, said Debbie Lindauer, Book Buddies director.
Eleven gingerbread houses, all decorated by Book Buddies students, were displayed throughout the main level of the historic, three-story 13,000-square-foot mansion built by Columbus banker Joseph I. Irwin in 1864. Visitors cast votes of $1 each for their favorite gingerbread houses.
The event also showcased Christmas decorations by local designers who donated their talents and time to adorn the mansion with elaborate holiday decorations.
Visitors were greeted by a twinkling, 12-foot-tall Christmas tree as they entered the foyer and additional smaller trees throughout the main floor.
Elizabeth Wetherald, one of four interior designers who participated, spent nearly seven hours decorating a 6-foot-tall tree in the Tea Room featuring an estimated two dozen teacups and saucers.
“I would love to do it again,” she said.
Shortly before 6 p.m., Santa appeared and settled into a seat beside the lit fireplace in the library.
Visitor Rolan Ryan, 8, said he had a feeling Santa might show up. He didn’t waste any time telling Santa that he wants an Xbox gaming system for Christmas.
Since its 1910 restoration, the home has been kept as original as possible — which impressed visitors as much as the evening’s decorations and festivities.
When Anita Gyojin Cherlin entered the foyer, her eyes lit up. Having grown up in Columbus during the 1950s, Cherlin recalled passing the mansion on her way to the Bartholomew County Public Library next door.
The inn is the former childhood home of the late Columbus business leader J. Irwin Miller and his sister, Clementine Tangeman.
“I’ve dreamed of coming in here since I was little,” Cherlin said.
She spoke with owner Jessica Stevens, expressing her gratitude for the open house and the opportunity to tour the mansion’s main floor.
“I thought the decorations were very clever and beautiful,” Cherlin said. “Most of all, I just love the place. To see the home just as it was, it makes you feel like you’re visiting the Miller family.”
Terry Brumett, there with his granddaughter, admitted he was also awestruck when he entered the home.
“To know something like this, with such awesomeness, is located in your town is breathtaking,” he said. “I will come back here and stay, just for the experience.”
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