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Holiday Gift and Event Guide — The Altamont Enterprise, November 26, 2009

The Polar Express rolls into Altamont on Dec. 6, bringing Santa
and Christmas magic to top off a Victorian Holiday Celebration

By Philippa Stasiuk

ALTAMONT Santa Claus is coming to town on Dec. 6 — by train. As part of the finale of a weekend full of holiday events, the Altamont Community Tradition has arranged for a two-car Christmas Train to pull up to the Altamont train station.

On Sunday after the tree-lighting ceremony in neighboring Orsini Park around 5:30 p.m., driver Chris Ahlf, an engineer at SMS Rail, will pull a boxcar up to the train station. There, to the once-familiar sound of the train whistle, Santa will toss goodies to both children and the young at heart.

“I see this as the train returning to Altamont,” said Judy Dineen, ACT member and mother of Trustee Kerry Dineen. “I remember when my dad took me to Albany on the train. It cost 35 cents and we went down and had lunch at Peter’s Restaurant. It was a promotional thing.”

According to Ahlf, who lives in Greenville, the train has not seen regular passenger service since 1930. He said that, upon starting work for SMS Rail at the Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland, he thought running a pleasure train through Altamont was a great idea and approached village officials. They agreed that Victorian Holidays weekend would be the time to bring the train back.

Historic homes open for the holidays

The Victorian house tour is also on the weekend’s schedule after a two-year respite, and seven homes will be open for touring between 1 and 4 p.m. on Sunday. A free trolley will take those on the house tour from home to home.

New to the tour this year is the Hayes House at 104 Fairview where owners Josh and Amy Martin will be showing their classical revival built by local miller Miles Hayes in 1910.

The home is an extraordinary stop on the tour not only because the detailing inside has been remarkably preserved (keep an eye out for the dumbwaiter in the butler’s pantry, and the original light switches) but also because of the whimsical and serene imprint the Martins have added to the space. 

Amy Martin, a fourth-grade teacher at Westmere Elementary School, is also a moonlighting artist working in abstract landscapes in oil and acrylic. Many of the rooms are dotted with Amy’s art, which stands in contrast to the house’s ornate woodwork. On Amy’s canvas, “Color is more important than anything else” she says.

The Martins also dabble in furniture making and, in the back parlor, now transformed into the Martins’ dining room, stands a 15-foot long rectangular oak table that the Martins made. They have refurbished one of the barns behind the house and now use it as a woodworking studio.

The Altamont Fair owned the Hayes House between 1970 and 2003 and, during that time, the home was placed on both the national and the state registers of historic places. “We’re lucky nobody lived here for thirty years,” said Amy. “If they had, the woodwork would have been painted during the 70s.”

Canine costume contest

Part of the howliday weekend geared towards families and children is a new dog costume contest, which will be at noon on Sunday at the Maple Avenue Park. Village residents with dogs are encouraged to bring their pooches dressed in holiday attire. After traipsing the canine catwalk, awards will be handed out in three categories: funniest, most colorful, and most authentic.

Judith Wines, librarian at the Altamont Free Library who is helping to coordinate the contest, ventured to explain that by authentic, the contest meant, “It was the most plausible, and best captured the spirit of your dog.” Wines gave an example of her greyhound, which she said is often mistaken for a cow by small children and whom she therefore donned with cow horns for Halloween.

Dineen, who will judge the contest, added that, if a dog really looks like a reindeer that might be a good entrant for the most authentic. “But that might be a stretch,” she said. “What can I tell you?”

Dineen said she got the idea of the dog show by seeing just how many people in the village own dogs. “A few people have asked, ‘Can we dress up to match our dogs?’ and I said, “Knock yourselves out.’ It’s just for fun.  We just wanted to get families and kids involved.”

Seeking Jesus

New for the Victorian Holiday weekend this year is a living nativity, which will be sponsored by the Altamont Reformed Church. Between 4:30 and 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, after the house tours, the church will showcase a manger scene, complete with live animals, wise men, and the baby Jesus.

“My hope is that folks will just show up and sing carols and walk away when they want to,” said Dineen. She said she has seen living nativities at other churches, and hopes other people find it as moving as she did.

“It always puts me in the season beautifully. It ties in with Christmas, and the Altamont Reformed Church was willing to do it and to sponsor it,” said Dineen.

As of last Thursday, Dineen was still working on finding an infant to play the part of Jesus in the manger.

Wreaths, trees, and more

Other activities that ACT is including in its eighth annual Victorian Holiday Celebration are a complimentary wine and cheese party to be held at the Masonic Hall on Maple Avenue between 7 and 9 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5. At that time, wreaths that have been decorated by volunteers in the community will be displayed for bidding in a silent auction. Local artist Mary Ann Brock’s holiday posters will also be on sale.

On Sunday, the Masonic Hall will be open from 1 to 4:30 p.m., at which time bidding will continue for the wreaths, and there will be additional children’s activities and treats. As part of the Festival of Trees, the hall will be filled with Christmas trees decorated by neighborhoods, businesses, and community organizations.

Kids can get temporary tattoos and balloon sculptures. Gingerbread houses made by local children will also be on display.

ACT is a not-for-profit community service volunteer group that meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Masonic Hall. Other events with which ACT is involved include an annual community picnic and a spring Green ’n’ Clean of the village parks. According to member Norman Bauman, the group’s objective is to “improve the quality of life of the residential and surrounding area in Altamont.” 


Admission for the house tour is $10 for adults with a $2 discount for seniors; $5 for children with those under 5 admitted for free. All other events are free. The celebration is open to the public at large.

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