Miles from the noisy fracas of urban shopping outlets, the little town of Bridgeton bustled with a different kind of holiday spirit last weekend.
A white carriage lined with boughs of holly and red ribbons turned the street corner and then parked across from Collom’s General Store. Saturday afternoon, hundreds of shoppers milled about the historic Parke County town, visiting dealers of antiques and purveyors of homemade food alike.
Robert Ross, proprietor of Enchanted Evenings Carriage Co., slowed his horse, Darla, to a halt and waited for patrons seeking a ride around town. The annual Bridgeton Country Christmas Festival was under way, and Ross said he’s participated the last three years.
“This weekend gets us started for the holidays,” he said.
The 19th century town’s Christmas celebration kicked off this weekend and will resume Friday morning at 9, running through 8 p.m. that day and Saturday. Next Sunday the town re-opens for holiday business from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
But like many of the town’s businesses, Collom’s General Store is open 12 months a year. Owner Dan Collom purchased the operation in March 2006, and his family has been running it ever since.
The store’s floors and walls were lined with wooden boards, its back rooms contained tables full of Christmas gifts and hand-made items. Up front, though, the smell of cinnamon and ginger mixed with holiday music as customers gobbled up desserts.
Betsi Collom, Dan’s daughter-in-law, said she makes the gingersnap cookies and persimmon pudding at the store while others prepare chicken and noodles, cobbler and sandwiches. About 1,500 people visit the small Parke County town during the Christmas season, she said.
“I just enjoy being with my family at the holiday time and helping out,” she said.
The general store remains open throughout the year, and each Friday night hosts the Bridgeton Crossroads Band between 7:30 and 10:30 p.m.
The Bridgeton 1878 House also remains open throughout the year, selling handcrafted gifts, pottery and art. Inside the historic home, Susan Carr said the property remains in her mother’s name, Blanche Case. The log cabin behind the house was built in 1822 by her great-great-great-grandfather, Seba Case.
“And Santa is in the cabin both Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 3,” she said.
With the town’s building decked out in bows and lights, Carr said the holiday spirit is alive and well, augmented by easy parking and lots of food.
“It’s kind of nice instead of fighting the big crowds at the malls,” she said, adding most of the business owners are also residents, neighbors and artisans.
“I like it because people are out to have a nice time, and when you say ‘Merry Christmas’ to a few thousand people, it certainly puts you in the spirit yourself. And it brings back the true spirit of Christmas.”
Out back, her sister Celia Case, joined Santa Claus inside the family’s old log cabin. Treating visitors to gifts and a spot on the old elf’s lap, she told them the story of how her great-great-great-grandfather Seba built the cabin originally in Coxville. Pictures of the ax he used to chop the logs could be seen as she explained how it served as a home to the settlers.
“The family that lived here had five kids and three survived. We’re glad they did or we wouldn’t be here,” she said.
The Case family came from Norfolk, England, in 1633, originally settling in Hartford, Conn., and eventually moving into New York. Seba moved west to Indiana in 1818, partnering with industrialist Chauncey Rose in the operation of a saw mill before building the cabin in 1822.
The Case family later moved the cabin to Bridgeton, where it has been restored and houses homemade jams, jellies and other holiday gifts.
Santa Claus will return to the cabin next Saturday and Sunday amid the town’s final weekend of Christmas celebration.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.