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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2007
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Kristi Hodges decorated this Christmas tree and wrapped garland around the banister in the Donnell House foyer for the Festival 
of Trees in Athens.
Daily photos by Gary Cosby Jr.
Kristi Hodges decorated this Christmas tree and wrapped garland around the banister in the Donnell House foyer for the Festival of Trees in Athens.

Decking Donnell
16th annual Festival of Trees celebrates color in historic Athens home

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

The historic Donnell House in Athens is dolled up for the holidays in bright jewel tones, bold neon colors and unusual combinations.

“The Colors of Christmas” is the theme this year for the Festival of Trees, a fundraiser that helps maintain and preserve the house.

This is the first of three weekends you can tour the Donnell House to see the greenery and mantel decorations, plus more than 40 themed trees decorated by individuals and groups.

“We’ve got blue and silver, red, gold, green, purple — it’s colorful this year,” said Festival of Trees chairwoman Suzanne Totten. “Of course, the Red Hat Society ladies put up a tree in their colors of red and purple, and others chose all kinds of color combinations.”

Totten decorated two green trees herself. One features silver and blue balls, and she calls it “Disco Christmas.”

“A friend and I also put up one we call ‘A Tree Divided,’ because it’s half Auburn and half Alabama colors and decorations. She and my husband are for Alabama, while I’m for Auburn,” she said.

Frank Crafts, who is handling publicity for this 16th annual event, said some decorators used “a traditional take on the colors of Christmas,” while others went all out with dramatic combinations.

Tallest tree

Suzanne Totten is chairwoman for the annual Festival of Trees at the historic Donnell House in Athens.
Suzanne Totten is chairwoman for the annual Festival of Trees at the historic Donnell House in Athens.
“And this year we have the tallest tree we’ve ever had,” he said. The 24-footer, adorned in traditional colors, is in the women’s parlor.

“There are a lot more individual decorators involved this year,” he said. “And they came up with some really wild decorations, such as a turquoise tree and banisters in hot pink and gold.”

Tablescapes and collections also are included in the decorations.

“One of the mantels is decorated in black and gold and features a collection of 19th-century toleware,” Crafts said.

One tree is adorned with all types of nutcrackers, while elementary children’s faces adorn another. Their teachers created reindeer-look frames for student photos, trimming them with rhinestones.

Another tree shows nearly everyone’s favorite college colors, Crafts said, because all the Southeastern Conference teams are represented.

The Garrett tree was decorated in memory of an Athens resident by family members and friends who used the handmade ornaments she created through the years.

Donnell House board chairman Scott Smith and member Chris Paysinger decorated the outside with boxwood greenery in traditional early 19th-century Christmas décor.

Antique china drawing

Those touring the home may buy tickets for a set of antique china that was donated. The drawing will be Dec. 2, the last day of the Festival of Trees.

“We got the shutters repaired using money from last year’s festival, and now we need to work on the windowsills,” Crafts said. “When you’re dealing with a house that is more than a hundred years old, one shutter panel costs over a thousand dollars, so we need a lot of people to come see these trees and decorations.”

The two-story Donnell House was built in the 1850s for the Rev. Robert Donnell, founder of Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Later, it became a home for principals of North Alabama Agricultural School, Athens High School and Athens Middle School.

Totten said they want to make enough to pay bills, maintain the house “and do the extra things that need to be done.

“We’ve got a lot of creative people participating and bringing their own taste and their own touch in here,” she said.

If you go

What: Donnell House 16th annual Festival of Trees

When: Sunday, Nov. 24-25 and Dec. 1-2, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays and Thanksgiving Day (a shuttle will be provided Sunday from downtown Athens during merchants’ open houses)

Where: 601 S. Clinton St. in Athens, on the campus of Athens Middle School

Admission: $6 for adults and $3 for children. Call 232-0743 or visit www.donnellhouse.org.

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