While visiting the Tampa Bay area of Florida last week, I was able to take in the first day of the Victorian Stroll at the Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa. It was a wonderful way to kick off the Christmas holiday season!

The Henry B. Plant Museum started out as the Tampa Bay Hotel, a playground for the rich and famous. Built by the man who brought the railroad to Florida, the hotel was open to the public from February 5, 1891. The Great Depression was its undoing and it closed in 1930. The building and its property were purchased for a fraction of what it cost to build. What would eventually become the University of Tampa opened in the location in 1933. The Tampa Municipal Museum was established to co-exist with the new campus and to preserve the hotel in its original form. It was renamed the Henry B. Plant Museum in 1974.

This year, the museum celebrates the holiday season with its 36th annual Victorian Stroll. The outside of the building lets you know there is something special waiting for you inside. Walk through the door and you are greeted by docents eager to make your visit a comfortable and memorable experience. Everywhere you are surrounded by the splendor of a Victorian Christmas experience. A variety of Christmas trees adorn each room with a central splendid tree regaled in Victorian era-inspired ornaments as the centerpiece.

One of the most interesting trees wasn’t an evergreen. You might say the first ‘artificial’ Christmas tree was introduced during the 1860s. Goose feather trees were made of goose feathers that were dyed, split, and splayed then wrapped around a wire to imitate the evergreens from the forests of Germany. With plenty of room between the branches, many beautiful keepsakes and other ornaments were hung for all to enjoy. Goose feather Christmas trees were all the rage during the Gilded Age.

Each room was a new and beautiful Christmas surprise. I even found Santa reviewing his naughty and nice list in the Reading and Writing Room! What fun it was to take a step back in time and enjoy a taste of what a Victorian Christmas looked like. If you live in the area, it is well worth the trip to the Henry B. Plant Museum for the Victorian Stroll. This year’s event continues through December 23rd. Find out more about the museum and the Victorian Stroll. Scroll down for a few photos from my visit.

What fun it would be to be part of the experience in your own history-inspired Victorian clothing, too!

– Donna Klein