See what the holidays were like in the Victorian age

Dec 2, 2013

The Kimball House Museum in Battle Creek
Credit Nancy Camden

The Kimball House Museum in Battle Creek is a Queen Ann style house built in 1886 on what was once called Maple Street. It’s now Capitol Avenue, NE. At that point, it was the fanciest street in town.

The Kimball House isn’t the fanciest house on the street but is good example of an upper middle-class Victorian home. It was occupied by three generations of doctors, all of them named Arthur Kimball. Mary Butler is from Heritage Battle Creek, which runs the museum. 

“In this area and in this town, it’s at the height of the town’s industrial prosperity, when it was shipping heavy industry around the world," says Butler. "Before there was cereal, it was a very wealthy town that was known around the country and around the world. So, a lot of the things here, which is typical of late-Victorian style are to ostentatiously show that you have leisure and wealth. And, so what looks to us as very cluttered and full of stuff is very typical of the Victorian period. And, that’s the way we tried to furnish the home.”

A music box at the Kimball House Museum
Credit Nancy Camden

The front parlor is the most ornate room in the house. Victorians entertained important guests there and displayed their fanciest furniture, portraits of the family, important documents and travel mementos. Only people with a lot of time and money could travel. So, if you could afford that, you put proof of it in the parlor. In the Kimball House there are pillows from Niagara Falls and pieces of coral. If you couldn’t travel, you could look through a stereopticon to see 3-D photographs of Africa, Paris or the Grand Canyon. 

Because there is not a history museum in Battle Creek, a couple of rooms are dedicated to two national stories of the town’s history. One room has info about the Seventh Day Adventist Sanitarium and cereal history. The other tells the story of Sojourner Truth, a feminist and civil rights activist in the 19th century. Truth was a former slave and illiterate, but made speeches all over the country. Truth spent most of her adult life in Battle Creek.

Saturday, December 7th, there is a reservation-only Victorian Tea at the Kimball House. On Sunday from 1-4 p.m., the public is invited to an open house with music and a Victorian Santa, who carries coal and oranges in his bag for the children who have been naughty or nice.