Salt ’n Spar

Coming attraction: A return of Wiscasset Open House Day

Thu, 03/24/2022 - 8:45am

    Once upon a time there was “Wiscasset Open House Day,” a day-long celebration held every August when people living within the village opened the doors to their historic homes and offered guided tours for a small fee. The event included a noontime luncheon with proceeds going to support the public library and the “W.V.I.S.,” which stood for Wiscasset Village Improvement Society.  A 1938 poster advertising Open House Day billed it as the 11th annual one, suggesting it started in 1927. The tradition was carried on until the early 1960s when it ended.

    They say everything comes around again and there’s now talk of reviving Open House Day. Not long ago Lucia Droby emailed me asking what I might know about past Open House celebrations. Ms. Droby has played an important role in planning and organizing Wiscasset’s very popular summer art walks. She resides on Pleasant Street with her husband where she operates Carriage House Gardens. She told me the Wiscasset Creative Alliance wanted to hold an Open House Day this summer, possibly in early July, with the intent of making it a yearly event.

    For benefit of those who haven’t heard of the Ceative Alliance, it’s a collaboration of volunteers, local businesses and community partners working together to offer family-friendly experiences throughout the year including: Wiscasset Holiday Marketfest, Museum in the Streets, Wiscasset Schoonerfest, Friends of Wiscasset Village, and the aforementioned Wiscasset Art Walk. This information and more can be found on the organization’s website, www.wiscassetcreativealliance.org

    “We know there were house tours in the 1920s and 1930s and a huge Open House in the Village in the 1960s.  Do you have any information about these or other previous tours?” wrote Ms. Droby in her email. She had included two images showing original posters advertising the events that someone had purchased at an estate sale. She said she also had a copy of the Open House Day booklet from 1963 listing 24 Wiscasset homeowners participating in the daylong tour.

    For help, I contacted my old friend Steve Christiansen of Willow Lane. A Wiscasset native, Steve has a large collection of Wiscasset memorabilia including a few items from the Open House celebration including a guest book for the 1937 and 1938 events. “There were 467 people who signed the guest book in 1937, but there were likely a lot more who attended because almost a hundred people signed it as ‘Mr. and Mrs.,’” said Steve. People from 30 different states and Washington, D.C. were represented along with visitors from Canada, Spain and London, England. Open House Day was always held around the second week in August.

    “I never attended an Open House Day myself, I was pretty young when the last one was held. One of the posters I have is from 1960, that same summer that Wiscasset celebrated its bicentennial,” Christiansen added. Tickets for that event held on Aug. 17 were $3 while the noon luncheon on the town common cost $1.25; 75 cents for kids. “That Fourth of July there was a huge parade downtown and every town in Lincoln County was represented. I was 4 and a half-years-old but I remember it because the parade route went past the house where my family lived on Federal Street.”

    Droby said planning is continuing for the Open House Day’s return although no date has been announced. She told me Linda Harris was volunteering as tour chair, and Felicia Broderick is serving as director of tour promotion. We wish them well and look forward to the event.

    Phil Di Vece earned a B.A. in journalism studies from Colorado State University and an M.A. in journalism at the University of South Florida. He is the author of three Wiscasset books and is a frequent news contributor to Wiscasset Newspaper and Boothbay Register. He resides in Wiscasset. Contact him at pdivece@roadrunner.com