It didn’t take long.
Thanksgiving is over and the Santa Claus sightings have begun, beginning at the Olde Fashioned Christmas at Mill Creek MetroPark’s Lanterman’s Mill on Saturday.
For the past 30 years, the Olde Fashioned Christmas at Lanterman’s Mill has served as the holiday-season kickoff event for families across the Mahoning Valley. The 172-year-old mill was decorated in hand-crafted pine wreaths and swags, with the interior hosting dozens of poinsettia plants’ vendors and, naturally, Santa.
A group of volunteers spent Thursday and Friday setting up the mill for the event, cleaning and dusting and collecting pine boughs for the outdoor decorations. Each of the swags adorning the outside of the mill was created by mixing pine bough varieties and were assembled by hand.
By 3 p.m. Saturday, Maureen Weetman, the Mill Creek MetroParks’ program and event coordinator, said more than 4,300 individuals had visited the mill, and she expected to see more than 5,000 visitors by the end of Saturday. She said she expected similar numbers today when the event continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Weetman also said the majority of the event’s 15 vendors were longtime veterans of the Olde Fashioned Christmas, and that the event falling on Small Business Saturday was a “happy coincidence.”
Inside the mill, the plucks of guitar strings and the organlike tones of an accordion carried holiday tunes throughout the building while visitors meandered among the vendors.
Of the vendors in the basement of the mill were Ed Lipp, from New Castle, Pa., who had a selection of hand-crafted birdhouses available for sale, and Linda Szmara, displaying a collection of meticulously detailed painted rocks.
Lipp’s birdhouses were made from reclaimed material – sewer pipes, PVC tubing, old boots – and were painted, each showing off a different texture pattern across the front. Many of the houses were topped with copper, though a few sported A-frame slate roofs instead.
Szmara’s stones were painted to resemble animals – mice, rabbits and raccoons, among others – with some images so accurately rendered it would not be difficult to mistake her creations for the real thing.
She is a 10-year veteran of the event, and says she has met individuals from across the country while selling her creations during the Olde Fashioned Christmas.
“I have a lot of repeat customers,” she said. “Being so close to Thanksgiving, this event attracts a lot of out-of-town visitors, too, so I see people from all over who remember my booth here and stop by to see me year after year.”
Scott Lanz, a local photographer, had more than a dozen canvas photo prints capturing the beauty of Mill Creek Park available for purchase, as well as post cards and holiday cards bearing his work. He said the event was a way for visitors to connect with the park and celebrate the nostalgia of whatever era of Youngstown they experienced as the mill has stood through it all.
“I had a woman today who has a relative who grew up in Youngstown that lives in Arizona. She got her a holiday card with a photo of the mill covered in snow to send to her,” he said. “People like those little bits of nostalgia.”
Outside the mill, Ray Novotny, a former 30-plus year naturalist at the park and now a volunteer, was roasting chestnuts for visitors to sample.
Novotny, who has been the event’s chestnut cook for more than 12 years, said people’s reactions when trying the nuts for the first time is almost universally “delightful surprise.”
Tim and Susan Leetch of Boardman attended with their son Owen.
“It’s tradition,” Susan Leetch, who had attended for the past 14 years, said. “It seems to get better every year. Always a little different, but mostly the same.”
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