By Ann Reily
---- — Though it doesn’t sit on the water, Newburyport’s High Street is home to a number of symbols of the city’s rich maritime history: houses built and owned by sea captains, shipbuilders and merchants.
So it seems only fitting that the Custom House Maritime Museum would choose to highlight this history for the 20th anniversary of its Holiday House Tour.
“What we try to do each year is spotlight a neighborhood,” said Kristin Hunter, who has been organizing the tour with Nancy Griffin for the past four years. “I feel like I learn a little bit more about Newburyport every year.”
The 10 homes featured in Saturday’s annual event include a Georgian gambrel built in 1790 by prominent shipwright Jacob Coffin; a Federal-style house built in 1806 by merchant and Newburyport Bank co-founder Samuel Allyne Otis; and an Italianate Victorian built in 1865 for the Balch family, the first providers of coal to Newburyport.
The tour continues into Newbury and ends at the circa-1710 Toll House, where George Washington once paid the toll for his horse to cross the river. The one home not on High Street or High Road is a center-chimney Colonial built in 1780 by Capt. John Pearson at 338 Merrimac St. in Newburyport.
“It’s really a rare glimpse into some of the most prestigious homes in Newburyport,” Hunter said.
“We are thrilled to have the architectural jewels of Newburyport available,” Griffin said.
One of those jewels is Jeanne Petrillo’s residence at 182 High St. Built in 1792 by Abner Wood, a local merchant and shipowner, the Federal-style house includes nine fireplaces.
“The unique thing about this home is that all the mantels are from the school of (Samuel) McIntire,” Petrillo said. “Each room has different crown molding and a different mantel, but they coordinate with one another.”
When Petrillo first saw the home in 2007, she knew she wanted “to bring it back to the day when it was grand.”
“I just had to save it,” she said.
She spent 21/2 years renovating the house that had been converted into apartments, turning it back into a single-family. She first showed off her work on the 2010 Holiday House Tour, which she enjoyed so much that she was happy to participate again this year.
“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a good cause,” Petrillo said. “I’m happy to do it because it’s (the museum’s) largest fundraiser for the entire year. Maritime history for Newburyport is very, very special.”
Two floors of Petrillo’s home will be open to the public, with greens and decorations festooning every mantel and each room boasting a different theme. One Christmas tree is decorated in only blue and white to match her guest suite. Another is all black and white, while a third features birds.
“I like to surprise people when they walk room to room,” Petrillo said. “I have a little bit of whimsy here and there. If I can make them laugh by doing something silly with decorations, I’ll do it.”
For lifelong Newburyport resident Meghan Santos, finding a home within walking distance to the downtown was a dream come true. She and her husband, Mike, purchased the Italianate Victorian at 80 High St. six years ago and moved in just before Christmas in 2009.
“I grew up all over Newburyport,” Meghan Santos said. “I knew I wanted to be on this end of town.”
The Santoses were careful to preserve the historic design of the 1850 home, including saving three tin ceilings and much of the woodwork, while updating it with the latest smart house technology.
“We were just really cautious to make it so you couldn’t tell where the old and new began,” Meghan Santos said.
For Christmas, the family likes to go all out. The children, 8-year-old Todd and 7-year-old Ella, even have Christmas trees in their rooms. And the kitchen table has been transformed into a gingerbread house station.
“We love Christmas, and we decorate quite a bit every year,” said Santos, who will have most of the first floor open for Saturday’s tour. “It’s not traditional at all. You’re not going to see much red or green. It’s pretty much different shades of whites and silvers and golds.”
One of the two newer homes on this year’s tour is Jude Martino’s Georgian-style mansion at 49 High Road in Newbury. Built in the late 1990s, the home includes a dramatic butterfly staircase decorated with garland and stockings.
“Christmas has always been my big holiday,” Martino said. “This year, I kind of went overboard a little bit.”
Martino will show her rear foyer, living room, family room, kitchen and dining room.
“There will be lots for people to see,” she said. “Every room is really different.”
Special touches include a full Christmas village and a tree with glass ornaments that she’s been collecting for years. Completing the tree is a homemade Santa Claus that looks like he is climbing over the top.
Martino, who also participated in the tour when she first moved in around 15 years ago, said she is happy to have the opportunity to help the community.
“I like to give when I can give, and this is one way that I can give,” she said.
She is also thinking of putting her home on the market in the spring and thought that the tour would be a great way for people to see it.
“Getting rid of it is going to be very hard since I love it so much,” she said.
In addition to the chance to peek behind the curtains of the 10 homes, Saturday’s tour will also offer “a lot of magic and surprises throughout the day,” Hunter said.
One house will offer cider and doughnuts, while others will have musical performances. The Custom House will also serve chowder and coffee, compliments of Starboard Galley and Starbucks, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
If you go
What: 20th anniversary Holiday House Tour
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: 10 homes in Newbury and Newburyport. Pick up tour brochures and maps at the Custom House Maritime Museum, 25 Water St.
How much: $23 in advance, $28 on the day of the tour. Proceeds support the museum’s operation.
More information: 978-462-8681 or www.thechmm.org
On the tour
Hordon residence, 338 Merrimac St., Newburyport
Conway residence, 360 High St., Newburyport
McLaughlin-Veno residence, 254 High St., Newburyport
Cannon residence, 185 High St., Newburyport
Petrillo residence, 182 High St., Newburyport
Whilton residence, 181 High St., Newburyport
Santos residence, 80 High St., Newburyport
Martino residence, 49 High Road, Newbury
McDonald-Supple residence, 163 High Road, Newbury
Bussone residence, 286 High Road, Newbury
Silent Wreath Auction
Saturday will also wrap up the Custom House Maritime Museum’s annual auction featuring one-of-a-kind, handcrafted wreaths created by local artists and businesses.
The auction will be open the rest of this week during regular museum hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bidding ends at 4 p.m. Saturday, with the winners announced immediately afterward.