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June 2012
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'Tis the Season for Nostalgia: Two Paducah Homeowners Embrace their Love for the Things of Old

Story by Elizabeth Neelley Photography by Marc McCoy

The home of J. Glenn Smith

A once neglected Paducah Victorian, built in 1877, has been restored to its former glory. Bought at an auction in August 2013 by local resident J. Glenn Smith, the Jefferson Street beauty stands ready to welcome a new century of visitors.

The home was, as Smith says, in "horrible shape" when purchased, but after nearly two years of painstaking restorations and construction -- including taking down walls to the studs and brick walls, installing new electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and managing to save some original stained glass and pocket doors -- Smith chose the Christmas season to open up his home to the public.

Smith, who has enjoyed hosting smaller groups and organizations for luncheons in the home since its restoration, agreed for the house to be a stop on the Yeiser Gallery Holiday Tour of Homes in Paducah.

The Victorian and holiday charm is first evident as one enters the home through the double glass front doors, each decorated with evergreen, tear-drop style door hangings that are topped with bright red, green and white ribbons. Just through the doors comes one of the holiday showpieces in the home: an 8-foot Christmas tree. Featuring over 200 Christopher Radko glass ornaments, the tree is a special part of the holiday festivities for Smith.

"I collect anything and everything. My daughter says I'm hard to buy for, so for Father's Days, birthdays and Christmases, I told her she could buy me Christopher Radko ornaments."

As his children were growing up, the tree would make its appearance every Thanksgiving Day. Smith would fix his kids Thanksgiving morning breakfast, and when they would leave to go visit their mother for the day, Smith would put up the tree. When the kids returned home, they were welcomed by the tree all lit up and decorated. Around the base of the tree are placed three tall glass enclosed lanterns, some with pillar candles inside, and one with a tall glass ornament uniquely hanging from the center. On a chair by the tree sits a ventriloquist puppet he bought for his son in the 1980s, which Smith has placed beside the tree for many years.

Just behind the Christmas tree, is the formal dining room, which showcases a nearly 10-foot dining table fully set and ready for a holiday gathering. The table centerpiece is an antique cut crystal punch bowl purchased at an estate sale in Benton, filled with red glass Christmas balls and decorated on both sides with French flower pots from the 1800s, found at the Nashville Flea Market. Surrounding the center table scape is a place setting at each chair of the china pattern Holiday by Lenox, and a variety of crystal stemware and silver flatware -- all which Smith has collected from estate auctions.

Smith makes no secret of his love for dishes and many different patterns of china. "Victorians had a set of dishes for every type of occasion," he says. Hence, Smith's transformation of a closet in the house into a Butler-style pantry, in which he stores nearly 60 sets of china. Also among his dish collection are a set of antique Limoge dishes with a fish pattern on them which he purchased from an estate sale in Paducah.

Collecting runs in the family, as is evident from the 4-foot nutcrackers on loan from his daughter who collects them, placed on the mantel in the downstairs parlor, or "TV room" as Smith calls it. This pair, among others, are randomly placed on various furniture pieces in this comfortable, yet elegantly appointed room.

Christmastime at Smith's home undoubtedly includes visits from family, counting his grandchildren, who have their own stockings hung from the mantel each year.

His grandson has officially claimed the middle guestroom on the second floor as "his room." Simply decorated with poinsettias for the holidays, the main feature of this room is an historic bed and dresser set from the 1840s, which came off of a steamer ship en route from New Orleans to St. Louis and into Smith's possession by way of an estate sale in Arlington held by the last surviving member of the family who originally purchased the set. The 9 1/2-foot high head board and 10-foot tall mirror on the dresser not only fit well with the era of the home, but draw one's eyes upward to notice the high ceilings and beautiful moldings featured in this room and throughout the house.

Like the bedroom suite, throughout the home Smith has displayed antiques, many of them older than the house itself, including a Civil War era grand piano, which came out of a home on Paducah's 42nd Street, and a Biedermeier chest from Germany, which Smith says is one of his best and favorite furniture pieces. For those who might desire to start their own collections, Smith says, "Collect what you like." He recommends visiting estate sales, auctions and antique stores to get your collection started.

Smith has done just this, and whether displayed at Christmastime or throughout the year, his historic Paducah home is a reflection of his love and respect for a bygone era, but with a new flair of his own.

Christmas at the DeCillis Home - The Home of Jim DeCillis

When Paducah resident Jim DeCillis celebrates the holiday season he does so with a real appreciation for his upbringing and childhood Christmas memories.

DeCillis has always had a love for old toys, collectibles and artifacts from yesteryear, but that love flourished even more when, after a visit to Paducah, he purchased a portion of the old St. Mary's Academy building on Monroe Street in 2008.

He has transformed the first floor of the former St. Mary's Music Hall in to an old-fashioned street scene from the mid-20th century.

DeCillis often has visitors ask to tour the building and see his many collections, and he has been a part of the Yeiser Holiday Tour of Homes the past few years. His design and vision for the first floor street scape serves primarily as a way to organize and showcase his vast medley of nostalgic pieces. A diner, a bank, an old gas station façade, a barbershop and a toy shop, both with glass windows, help to greet visitors to his home and to display his collections.

"I've been collecting since I was a little kid," he says.

Before retiring, a career with Exxon-Mobil took him all over the world, where he began collecting many different items, including an extensive collection of classic gas pumps, pump globes and Mobil "Flying Red Horse" advertising signs from the 1920s and '30s.

However, the old gas pumps are just a small portion of his collection. Various examples of taxidermy, barbershop and apothecary items, miniature department store mannequins, and 1950s soda fountain memorabilia are other collections to which he has gravitated.

Still, his favorite space is the toy shop which he leaves decorated for Christmas year-round and is full of toys from his childhood, including toy cars, trucks and his mother's doll house, which DeCillis says is a "cherished part" of his toy collection.

Entering the toy store room takes one back in time and for DeCillis is a literal reflection of how he remembers Christmas as a child. In the corner of the toy area stands a tall Christmas tree filled underneath with examples of the toys he and his brothers played with when young.

Next to the Christmas tree is a Santa chair encircled with more vintage toys, and framed department store photographs of him and his brothers sitting on Santa's lap hang above.

The year-round Christmas cheer is carried over to the 1950s diner façade, which is lit up brightly with neon signs and decorated on the outside with metallic tinsel Christmas trees.

One step inside and you are greeted by a traditional soda fountain counter and stools, a Rock-Ola jukebox, a variety of old Coca-Cola signage, and antique soda and syrup dispensers. Behind the soda fountain counter, on shelves, is a collection of Dept. 56 miniature lighted diners and drive-ins, all strung together in a row. He has also used the walls in the diner to display personal items from his high school days in New York.

At the front and rear of the vintage main street storefronts are staircases and landings that lead to his second floor living space.

One of the stairwells (by the far end of the street scene) is decorated as a theater lobby reminiscent of the movie theaters DeCillis frequented as a kid. As you proceed up the stairs, you pass stuffed big game heads, more antique gas pumps, as well as display cases featuring additional toy cars, trucks and gas pump globes.

While his second-floor living space is more subdued in nature, he has brought a few collections in to the space, including a collection of unique beer steins and some added soda fountain dispensers that are displayed near his dining area and kitchen.

Having grown up in Grand Island, N.Y,, he loves the feel of Main Street USA and the sense of community that his 1950s and '60s neighborhood gave him growing up. Perhaps it is that love for his small hometown which attracted him to the charm of Paducah, as well as his love for Christmastime and collecting all things nostalgic.

Says DeCillis of his love for the past, "Nostalgia just kind of followed me, and I couldn't let go of it."

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