Suburban Diary

Deck the halls with holiday decor for Newburyport tour

The floor of the entryway at 182 High St., Newburyport, features a compass rose painted by artist P.J. Goddard.
The floor of the entryway at 182 High St., Newburyport, features a compass rose painted by artist P.J. Goddard.

NEWBURYPORT — Decorating for Christmas can be stressful enough without inviting 1,000 strangers into your house to see the results.

But that’s what the 11 home­owners who will be part of the annual Holiday House Tour have agreed to do.

“What I think first is, you’ve got to be kidding me,” says Meg Wylie, whose 1796 Federal-style house at 17 High St. will be on the tour. “And then when they explain it’s their biggest fund-raiser, and their purpose is a good purpose, you take a deep breath” and say yes.


This year’s tour is set for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and benefits the Custom House Maritime Museum. Last year about 1,200 people took the tour, raising more than $30,000 for the museum.

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When Jo Burritt was asked to include her home at 179 Water St. on the tour, her friend’s daughter was interning for the museum, and that helped persuade her. The house where she and her husband, Wade, have lived since 2007 is a contemporary with many windows overlooking Joppa Park and the Merrimack River, and it gets a lot of attention. “We see people walking by and pointing all the time,” Burritt said.

Which reveals the secret engine behind this fund-raiser. Everyone says the Christmas decorations are beautiful. But the other comment you hear a lot on the tour is, “I always wanted to get a look inside that house.”

15 Boyd Drive, Newburyport

“We make an effort to hear the community and what they want to see on the tour,” organizer Kristin Hunter said with a smile.

Hunter and Nancy Griffin, both of Newburyport, are cochairing the tour for the third straight year.


“I think [the tour] is a great way to get connected to the community spirit of Newburyport, and it’s sort of a holiday tradition for a lot of residents. This is the 19th year; so many friends and family plan on this every year to get inspired for the holiday season,” said Hunter.

This year’s tour focuses on the Joppa neighborhood. Burritt’s home is one of three featured contemporaries dotted around the Joppa shore of the Merrimack River marsh. The others are at 296 Water St. on the corner of Rolfe’s Lane, and at 20 Old Point Road in the Newbury part of Plum Island, looking back across the water toward Joppa.

Among the other properties that will draw the curious is an elegantly decorated new town house at 78 Pleasant St. overlooking Brown Square, and a house on a wooded slope at 26 Finnegan Way in the western part of town, looking out over the Artichoke Reservoir.

“People get inspired to decorate for Christmas,” said Griffin. “That’s what I always look for. ‘Oh, I could do that.’ Or, ‘My house has one of those.’ And people come away with that, even if it’s only one idea.

“It used to be and continues to be predominantly a girl’s day out,” but more men are coming to the tour each year, added Griffin.


Wylie hired a floral designer to add some extra beauty to her annual display featuring antique Santas. Hunter and Griffin helped Burritt arrange vases and family members have pitched in, too.

But aside from the view, for many the highlight at Burritt’s will be Heidi Ho, an antique carved mermaid resembling a ship’s figurehead, decked out in her seasonal finery and presiding over the kitchen from above.

“The homeowners get four free tickets to the house tour, and I think that’s to get us out of here,” Burritt said with a laugh. “On the one hand, I’m curious to hear what people will say. On the other hand, I don’t want to hear the bad stuff.”

Tickets for Saturday’s event are $23 in advance and $28 on the day of the tour. There are refreshments (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and a silent auction at the museum, 25 Water St., where the self-guided tour begins. (Full disclosure: The museum gift shop sells my book.)
Joel Brown can be reached at