Delectable Yule cookies to return to Lowrie House this year, along with new tour
Yes, they’re just cookies, but when the confections are offered in a Victorian Christmas setting, complete with live musicians playing holiday favorites, they seem to be sprinkled with magic.
The third annual Butler County Historical Society Christmas Cookie Walk will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the society’s headquarters, the Sen. Walter Lowrie Museum behind the county courthouse.
Jennifer Ford, executive director at the historical society, said at last count, 275 dozen cookies are being baked by elves all over Butler County for purchase at the Cookie Walk.
“While that’s plenty, people shouldn’t wait until 6 or 6:30 p.m. to show up,” Ford said. “A few people did that last year, and they were disappointed because we had very little left.”
She said because expenses at the historical society have increased, the cost of one bakery box to fill with cookies will cost $12 this year instead of the traditional $10.
Each person who attends is limited to three boxes to ensure everyone has the opportunity to procure a nice assortment of cookies and fudge for their Christmas table this year.
Participants will once again traverse the Lowrie House, choosing the confections that appeal to them with the help of a society volunteer dishing up the cookies.
Knoch High School graduates now attending Butler County Community College, Sadi Shearer and Jack Iole, will set the mood for the event by playing and singing traditional Christmas music as participants shop for their cookies.
The house is decorated for a Victorian Christmas using items lent by Jeff Double, a historical society board member and owner of All About Reclaimed in Butler, as well as historical holiday items that belonged to the Sullivan family, who inhabited the house from 1939 to 1986.
“It’s a party,” Ford said of the Cookie Walk. “People are looking at the cookies and talking about the house and oohing and ahhing. It’s extremely festive.”
The Lowrie House, which was built by Walter Lowrie, Butler County’s only U.S. Senator, was constructed in 1836. The Sullivans were the third and only multigenerational owners.
The cookies will all be hand crafted by society volunteers, board members, staff and other trusted individuals.
“They are all different and everyone has their favorites,” Ford said. “There are people who come just to grab this or that cookie.”
Ford, who says she is not a baker, contributes chocolate mint fudge to the Cookie Walk each year, although one melt-in-your-mouth cookie is her actual favorite item at the event.
“I tend to grab the orange frosted,” she said.
Historical society personnel attempted an idea last year to make cookies using the Sullivan’s cookbooks.
“That was tough, so we backed away from that,” Ford said. “A handful of pig lard? Old cookbooks are hard to use.”
She said the first year of the event, she reminded all those baking that the Cookie Walk — then called the Cookie Tour — is a Christmas event so she would not get a mountain of chocolate chip cookies.
“Then everyone (at the event) wondered where all the chocolate chip cookies were,” Ford said.
In addition to that traditional cookie, she said gingerbread, thumbprint, and the artistic versions crafted by board member Margaret Hewitt are fan favorites each year.
Ford recalls being asked during her interview in 2019 what new ideas she had to get the community re-engaged with the historical society.
“I said events with food, and indeed, that’s been the ticket,” Ford said.
She said the Cookie Walk was held during her tenure at the Fort Bedford Museum in Bedford County, and she brought the sweet idea to Butler.
“People love cookies,” Ford said.
She said the atmosphere at the Cookie Walk can be a little like the Apple Store when a new iPhone is debuted.
“People want the good cookies and they are willing to go to the mat for them,” Ford said, laughing.
She recommends those who attend dress warmly, as they might be required to wait on the porch for a time while others pick their cookies.
“We’ve organized things to get people through more quickly this year, but you might end up standing outside for a bit,” Ford said.
She said the Cookie Walk garnered about $2,800 for the historical society last year, and is neck-and-neck with the annual Cemetery Walk regarding the most lucrative yearly fundraiser.
A new event for history lovers or those interested in decorating in the style of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert will be offered at the Sen. Walter Lowrie Museum on Friday, Dec. 8.
Tours lasting 35 to 40 minutes will begin at 4, 5, 6 and 7 p.m. Ford highly recommends those planning to attend make reservations.
“The tour is based on the normal tour of the Sullivan family house, with extra information about Christmas traditions,” Ford said.
She said the tour was added because so many people participating in the Cookie Walk asked questions about the house that it slowed down the lines considerably.
Visitors often inquire about the courses served on Christmas, how the Sullivans exchanged gifts and other queries, which the information given by the docents for the tour is based upon.
The presenters also will focus on the decorations at the house that belonged to the Sullivans.
“We have some of the gifts they exchanged and their Christmas cards, but we’ll also add information about how people of that class celebrated Christmas,” Ford said. “The Sullivans were a well-to-do family in Butler.”
She said thanks to the Portraits in the Parlor and Cookie Walk events during the weekends before the tour, the house will already be decorated.
“We’ll just have to straighten the candles and vacuum up the cookie crumbs,” Ford said.
Ford explained that had it not been for Queen Victoria’s beloved husband, Prince Albert, and his Germanic upbringing, the Victorian Christmas would not have come to be in Great Britain and the U.S.
“He’s the one who’s responsible for Christmas trees, greenery and other decorations,” she said. “Folks didn’t decorate for Christmas the way we think of Christmas until Victoria and Albert were on the throne.”
The historical society also held Portraits in the Parlor at the Lowrie House on Nov. 25, which saw individuals, couples and families having their photograph taken in the Victorian atmosphere of the house.
“People who came had a great time,” Ford said. “One couple apparently enjoys dressing up and going to have their photographs taken. It was impossible to get a bad picture of them.”
To make reservations for the Victorian Christmas Tour of the Lowrie House, call the historical society at 724-283-8116.