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How this woman keeps a historic Green Street home looking snazzy for Christmas
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Jayne Berry samples the location of a bow on a mantle at the Turner-Estes House on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Jayne Berry goes all out in decorating each room of the Turner-Estes House, one of the historic houses on Green Street that is decorated each year. - photo by Austin Steele

Jayne Berry, armed with garland and lights, has spent the past few years decking the halls of The Turner-Estes House, one of the grand homes of old Green Street.

“We do this on a shoestring budget,” Berry said. “I have neighbors who donate things and we just have a good old time.”

This is the fourth year she has decorated the home built in 1906, now occupied as office space by her friend Inez Grant and a couple of other attorneys. Berry is an avid decorator and well known in her neighborhood for going all-out on her own home, but why spend time decorating someone else’s office space for the holiday?

She said it’s all about getting in the holiday spirit and joining in the festivities, like Christmas on Green Street, that Gainesville enjoys. It’s a tradition like no other and something many families look forward to as the year comes to a close and temperatures begin to drop. 

Most historic homes along the road become a picturesque backdrop to the parade that passes through each holiday, and 403 Green St. is among them — offering a peek inside for the many visitors that come through its front doors.

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The Turner-Estes House is one of the historic houses on Green Street that is decorated each year. The house was built in 1906 and is now occupied as an office space. - photo by Austin Steele

“Christmas on Green Street was going on and none of these folks were opening their homes,” Berry said. “You could see the outside, but not the inside ... so (Grant) said we need to open this house so people can see how beautiful it is.”

Sharing the century-old home with Gainesville is what keeps Berry invested in the task. She loves the history of the building and decorating it for others to see. It’s a job she said some might not be up for.

“We used to blow the power all the time,” Berry said, noting that much of the home is original — including the electrics.

Over the years, Berry has done as much research as she can to learn about the home and who lived in it. She’s found that the land was purchased by G.F. Turner in 1904 and the home was sold to George Estes in 1913. She’s hoping to find photos, though, because she’s interested in the aspects of the home that have been changed over the years — an oddly-positioned closet here, a missing bedroom there. 

But outside of a few small changes, much of the home dates back to its early 1900s construction.

Things like the stained-glass windows as you walk up the staircase and even the handrails guiding the way. The floor is original, too, except for some small patch work in different places.

The key feature in each room of the home are the original fireplaces complete with ornate mantels, each one different and each one needing to be decorated by Berry. 

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A fireplace mantle is decorated at the Turner-Estes House. Jayne Berry decorates each fireplace differently, however Berry is now down to five mantles with some of them residing in rented office spaces within the home. - photo by Austin Steele

After Grant rented out a few of the rooms as offices, though, she’s down to just five mantels.

Those are the hardest part to decorate, as Berry said she doesn’t want to damage anything. That’s why she uses a simple trick to get it done.

“What I do is I put covered felt boards so I can staple and stuff,” Berry said. “That way, I can drape things down ... I can have a grand old time, stapling and draping, so that’s a fun trick.”

Many of the decorations are handmade, something her husband, Joseph Garcia, is tasked with each year. This year it was a free-standing fence. He made the twinkling trees out of a simple — and free — item, too.

“You go to the school, and you get the big cans of tomato sauce,” Garcia said.

Use the cans as the base, add some PVC and lights and the tree begins to take shape.

“I go to Goodwill and pick up ornaments and stuff,” Berry said. “But friends are really the thing. And I’ve been collecting for a lot of years, and our house is getting smaller and he wants the decorations to move, so I’ve moved it all over here.”

As children make their way through each room, looking at each mantel, tree and all the other decorations throughout the house, Berry asks them what is missing. If they guess correctly, they get a candy cane.

“When I first started to learn about this house ... it turns out that the kitchen burned, so there’s no kitchen,” Berry said.

The kitchen wasn’t connected to the home, so the house didn’t burn. She said a kitchen was never rebuilt.

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A nutcracker stands in the hallway at the Turner-Estes House. The Turner-Estes House is one of the historic houses on Green Street that is decorated each year. - photo by Austin Steele

Berry said they try to make the home feel as much like Christmas as they can by bringing in the smells of fresh-baked gingerbread.

“That’s a nice thing of Christmas, so we try to get the smells and the sights and the music of it,” Berry said. “We try to have a whole experience.”

That’s another thing Garcia took ahold of: gingerbread. He and Grant built a to-scale gingerbread version of the Turner-Estes House that’s been there on display each Christmas for the past few years.

Apart from that, one of Garcia’s favorite parts of decorating the house with his wife is his model train. Berry said there was no room left at their home, so he gets to play with it at the Turner-Estes House.

“I let them come up and play with the controls,” Garcia said.

“That’s how you learn about electricity, by shorting out the train,” he added, laughing, as he scrolled through photos of the setup on his phone.

In the days leading up to Christmas on Green Street, Berry can be found carrying decorations up from the basement of the Turner-Estes House, placing trees on the original wood floors and garland on the original mantels. The house is still a full-functioning office, so she doesn’t have a lot of time to get things done, but when it comes time for that parade of people to come through the house, Berry said she’ll be ready.

“It’s just because we love it and it brings in the holiday spirit,” Berry said.

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