A Christmas Ago
The old, idyllically decorated mansion that sits in the center of Pueblo has been standing through generations of Christmases. As time goes on, and the holiday continues to creep inexorably into the months leading up to it, the mansion too becomes draped in each new generation’s idea of Christmas.
The Rosemount Museum, as it’s decorated today, represents a modern Christmas far from what was celebrated by its original owners.
People flock to the mansion during the holiday season. It has been featured on documentaries and local TV programs and tourists tell its curators they’ve always wanted to visit during the holidays.
There was a time, however, when the Rosemount looked far less elaborate during Christmastime.
Just before John and Margaret Thatcher built the mansion in 1893, Christmas was hardly a commercialized holiday in the West.
People had marginal resources at the time, especially as the first pioneers of the Old West were still making their way to Pueblo. Even a family wealthy enough to build a mansion kept Christmas relatively simple.
Before the Thatchers began acquiring their wealth, their minimalist lifestyle in a much smaller house translated to their celebration of Christmas.
“Even though they were probably the most successful people in town, they still, by Eastern comparison, didn’t have a lot of money. They still lived a pretty simple life in their other home for many years,” said Deb Darrow, executive director of the Rosemount Museum.
“Originally, they would have celebrated very much like anybody else did back then, which was pretty simple,” she said.
The months-long celebration of the holiday season has taken years to materialize. Early Victorians, like the Thatchers, are largely responsible for its development.
During the Victorian era, Christmas all over the western world started to become more grandiose.
Queen Victoria’s celebrity status in England started to influence westerners. Once people took notice of her approach to celebrating Christmas, they started to replicate it.
“Within the course of two years, the holidays went from very religious-based, to these more decorative, festive Christmases we know,” Darrow said.
Much of what modern people associate with Christmas today can be credited to the queen’s husband, Prince Albert, and his nostalgia for his home in Germany.
“A lot of our Christmas traditions are very German-based. (Prince Albert) was used to more festive celebrating.”
The Christmas tree and large family meals, for example, can be credited largely to Prince Albert.
Even as these traditions were burgeoning well past the influence of England, people of all incomes kept Christmas small.
The American West was opening up when these celebrations started to become relevant. During the initial pioneering years, hardships forced families to prioritize a traditional celebration revolving very much around family and religion.
“Their celebration was as traditional as you could get in the West,” Darrow said.
The Thatcher family was instrumental in bringing industry to Pueblo and eventually, more extravagant Christmas celebrations.
“They gave Pueblo that kick-start to get it going,” she said.
Before the family came to Pueblo, the town centered itself on a lifestyle that included trading posts and saloons. John Thatcher’s arrival to Pueblo in the 1860s was the beginning of an industrial turning point.
John and his younger brother Mahlon created the first mercantile in Pueblo and eventually a string of 30 Colorado banks. As they became more successful, they began to diversify with various investments.
As Pueblo became a burgeoning hub for new businesses, people began to expand their Christmas celebrations.
The Thatchers became wealthier and gained the ability to provide a larger celebration for their family.
“Over time, as Pueblo developed, they could get their hands on things. They had more money by this point,” Darrow said.
Still, elaborately planned traditions had a few more years to develop.
“Part of their Christmas Eve celebration would have been decorating the tree,” she said.
Tree decorations consisted mostly of edible items, such as strings of popcorn. At that time, Rosemount was only decorated with one tree. The tree’s position, for years, was on the mansion’s veranda, which used to be partially covered with glass.
In later years, the tree was moved into the formal parlor, where it was still minimally decorated with edible items. As far as Christmas activities, Darrow said John and Margaret kept the Rosemount to themselves.
“This group of Thatchers didn’t necessarily do Christmas parties.”
John’s brother and his wife, however, did.
“They were known for their galas. I think John and Margaret were excited to let them take care of that,” she said.
After John and Margaret died, two of their children, Lillian and Raymond retained residence at Rosemount.
Lillian started to decorate more elaborately as she became in charge of Rosemount.
“Lillian did a lot more. She was more of the socialite,” Darrow said.
After Lillian died, Raymond reverted the Rosemount back to its minimal Christmas.
The series of alternating stewardship at the mansion very much determined the elaborateness of its Christmas decorations.
Shortly after Raymond Thatcher died in 1968, the mansion was converted into a museum. Here, a new tradition began to develop into one just as elaborate as the holiday itself was becoming.
“When the house became a museum, (decorating) really went in a different direction. They (staff and volunteers) really took advantage of the enormity of the house,” Darrow said.
Every year, on Nov. 1 precisely, the Rosemount enlists an organization known as the Women’s Auxiliary to decorate the expansive space.
In juxtaposition to the Thatcher family’s tradition of decorating on Christmas Eve, the women volunteers tackle decorating one or two rooms per day, just over a month and a half before the holiday itself.
Darrow credits the elaborate Christmas decor to the auxiliary and said without them, the small Rosemount staff would not be able to uphold the tradition.
“We’d be in really big trouble if we had to do anything like that. We’d go back to the very old times,” she joked.
Christmas at the Rosemount may be getting more modern, but one tradition allows it to hold onto its past.
In an old mansion decorated to reflect modern ideals of Christmas, an elaborate village of miniature buildings and figurines represents the humble beginnings of the holiday.
Since the Rosemount was converted into a museum, employees and volunteers have been collecting the Victorian figurines to create an increasingly intricate miniature village.
Members of the Thatcher family donated the original pieces of the collection to the museum in 1968.
“It’s a very popular part of our Christmas decorations,” Darrow said.
The collection has been on display during Christmas since 1968 but this year, it had to be redesigned to accommodate for the space it was taking up. Now, it has several more moving parts and an observation deck for children.
The designers of the display also replaced the train with a trolley to make it more authentically Victorian.
Christmastime is the busiest time of year for the Rosemount. Darrow recommended that large groups call ahead for guided tours. All other tours are self-guided but have museum representatives in each room to talk about the mansion.
The Christmas season at the mansion starts the day after Thanksgiving and continues throughout the end of the year.
“It really does come together quite nicely,” Darrow said.
The old mansion in the middle of Pueblo has weathered years of Christmas. Once a representation of the humble Victorians who lived there, the Rosemount has come to reflect the continually growing and extravagant Christmas of the modern people who visit it today.