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History and tea

Those looking for an escape from the commercial claws of corporate America during the holiday season need look no further than the McHenry Mansion in Modesto. Each year the McHenry Mansion Foundation offers individuals from near and far a respite from the holiday craze with their annual tea which harkens back to the Victorian period of tradition and gentility.

Sitting stately at the corner of 15th and I Streets in downtown Modesto, the McHenry Mansion was built in 1883 by Robert and Matilda McHenry. It was designed by Jeremiah Robinson, a Stockton contractor who constructed the Stanislaus County court house in 1872-1873, in the High Victorian Italianate architectural style that was popular at the time.

The mansion currently serves as a symbol of the town’s heritage to the locals and visitors that make their way through the manor each year.

While the tea was originally held in the mansion, the popularity of the event required the 100 people per seating to gather in the basement of the mansion to accommodate the demand. While the mansion draws crowds of its own right, people begin contacting the McHenry Mansion Foundation as early as February for tickets to the foundation’s annual event.

“It’s a wonderful problem to have,” laughed Janie Miely, a docent since 1998 who previously served on the Board of Trustees. “The event has gained such popularity over the years that we have returnees each year.”

The tea consists of a selection of sandwiches, desserts, and of course tea, all of which are served by the docents in fine cups and saucers donated from local individuals to recreate the authentic 19th century experience. The annual tea, which draws individuals from around the Central Valley to the Bay Area, generates several thousand dollars each year which is reintegrated into the mansion.

“People truly love the tradition of it and it’s really one of those serious starts to the holiday season. It’s a small bit of the traditions of the 19th century, the gentility and graciousness of it,” said Miely. “It restores your faith that the community of Modesto has supported and still loves this tradition.”

A limited quantity of tickets are available for the 22nd Annual McHenry Mansion Foundation Christmas Tea for $25. There are two seatings, 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., on Dec. 9. at 906 15th St. in Modesto. To make reservations contact Janie at 209-522-1739.