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Christmas Tour of Homes offers warmth and kindness to visitors

By: Michal Ganzman
Freelance Writer

The Christmas Tour of Homes is an event organized by the Mountain City Rotary Club where families from all across the county open up their houses to visitors who bought tickets for the tour. The raised money is put toward a scholarship that will be given to a graduating senior next spring.
This year the tour featured seven incredible houses, all with their own unique style of decoration and diverse collection of yummy treats. Each house had something different to offer its visitors and not one of them disappointed.
So let’s get started.
The first house on the tour was owned by Roby and Celeste Dunn. The house stands on a quiet stretch of residential houses bearing toward Roan Creek. The Dunns, no strangers to decoration, held the prestigious title of having not one but seven Christmas trees in their house, each decked with a unique design that complimented its coordinating room. One was the more traditional den Christmas tree, with red lights matching a log-smoked fireplace; another was themed after the Grinch, with green twirls of decorative icicles that looked like they were emoting a slightly mischievous grin; and one that Mrs. Dunn declared her personal favorite: an orange conifer covered in Tennessee Vols memorabilia.
The next stop found tour-goers atop a mountain in Red Tail at a house owned by Robert and Daisy Maxey. This wonder lodging was both beautiful and homey, with its space filled out by wood-brimmed images of the Nativity Scene and other biblical moments immortalized in Christmas art. The house also utilized a unique design implement that Mrs. Maxey called a “circulating air envelope,” where the ventilation is caught between outside and inside windows and then distributed throughout the house, giving every room that piney scent from the foliage in the area that yells “Christmas-time” to your nostrils.
Unfortunately the next house was not completed by the start of the tour. Owned by Lyle and Kendall Habermehl, this towering creation is still in the design phase but is showing great promise. By the end of next year, the walls of patchwork will be replaced with winding staircases, a brass bathtub and an open-air fireplace. One thing that is already in-place at the house is the stunning view from the deck balcony, as any wanderer can see nearly all of Mountain City from the comfort of a well-picked spot in this home in the hills. The owners echoed a thought voiced by nearly every visitor that came: “I can’t wait until next year.”
After passing a black steel gate (which was adorably christened with a pine wreath) tourers reached another mountain dwelling—this one owned by Don and Linda Walraed. Casting a shadow of multi-colored lights, nearly every inch of the house was crafted into a forest of Christmas ornamentation. The living room felt like a great wilderness of glowing pine needles that lit up the brown, beautiful walls of wood. And the eyes weren’t the only lucky ones here, for the entire house also smelled good enough to eat. Sparkling grape juice, fruit cake and nuts galore—this house was such a treat. And what a view: Mrs. Walraed, an artist whose paintings adorned the walls of her stunning abode, stated that the high-up location inspired hours-worth of creative musings.
“It’s a great place to study and to imagine,” she said.
Moving on to the next excursion brought house-viewers to the elegant home owned by Karla Prudhomme. The home’s exterior is dawned with wooden sleighs and angels made with antique, bronze string-wire. The instant one steps through the doors a beautiful aria of yuletide melodies of a piano echoed through the crispy winter air. The house, while being immediately impressive, also holds historical significance, as it was built and originally owned by Clyde “Hardrock” Shoun, the only pro baseball player to come from Mountain City. In the 1930s, Shoun became famous for scoring a no-hitter in league and soon after signed his name in the concrete basement wall of his Mountain City house to leave his mark on the town.
The penultimate house on the roster brought house-goers to another elevated locale. Owned by Ted and Elaine Lewis, the house was beautified by pictures of gingerbread houses and a large collection of biblical figures crafted from multi-colored glass. The kitchen was packed with an array of scrumptious treats, including a lovely carrot cake and a tasty onion dip sandwiched between buttered croissants. Although still standing, in the past the house was endangered by a tornado that hit Johnson County a few years ago. The owners said the cyclone cleared away dozens of trees in the area but left the house completely intact. Elaine Lewis said that her husband thought the house was spared in order to protect their two daughters.
“He said ‘it knew that two jewels were living up there and it wouldn’t hurt them,’” Mrs. Lewis said.
The final house of the tour brought weary travelers to the far reaches of Mountain City to a house in Sprucey Ridge. Since there was no snow on the mountain, no trudging was necessary, so while sauntering up the hill, visitors could enjoy the warm glow of dusk-laden mountains. JP and Jeff Burnham went beyond the typical Christmas decorations and took two months to turn their home into a holiday sensation. Each room had a different theme, including one modeled after Christmas in the early 1900s with Lionel Train-set included and another that recreated the scene in the book “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” with life-size dolls perched in positions of anticipation for a visit from Ole St. Nick. Visitors could unwrap each room with their eyes and find treasures of Christmas love and care all tied together by the 15-foot tree placed near the entrance of the house.
“We got it from the Johnson City fire department,” said JP Burnham. “When I was little we always had small trees and it drove me nuts.”
At the end of the tour, the senses were completely fulfilled, having just experienced such incredible moments to their respective selves. The houses sounded like music notes of laughter accompanied by tiny Christmas bells that rang out loudly in their softness.

To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.