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If you go
What: Brookside mansion tours
Where: University of Saint Francis
When: Wednesday (senior day), Saturday and Sunday
Time: Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Tickets: Purchase at North Campus lobby, 2702 Spring St.
Cost: $5 per person; $20 per family (limit six people); $3 for seniors (Wednesday only)
Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Visitors to Christmas at the Castle tour the Rose Room of the Brookside mansion at the University of Saint Francis on Sunday. Tours continue Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Saint Francis hosts Bass Mansion tours

Revisiting Christmases past

Visitors wowed by rooms decked for holidays

Visitors enjoy the rotunda and third-floor ballroom of the Brookside mansion. All three floors are open to the Christmas at the Castle tours.
Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
About a dozen local florists and decorators decked the halls of the former Bass family mansion to enhance the building’s beauty for the holidays.

Sandra Richards stands on a small stage in the French Colonial Ballroom on the third floor of the Bass Mansion. She looks out across the open salmon-colored room adorned with soft pink flowers and tiny Christmas trees twinkling with lights and gold balls.

“The room is so bright,” Richards said. “If the Bass family had a ball, this is probably how it would look.”

As a 1968 alumna of the University of Saint Francis, Richards remembers the Bass mansion near the heart of campus as a beautiful, somewhat spooky library with muted colors and faded mural walls.

But since the 1902 mansion was authentically restored in 2009-10, Richards said it has, in a sense, come back to life.

These days, she stops to see the mansion at least once a year during the university’s annual Christmas in the Castle when the estate is decked out as though the wealthy Bass family of yesteryear has invited the entire city to a Christmas party.

This year, about a dozen local florists and decorators decked the halls of the former Bass family mansion with tinsel, lights, flowers, trees and manger scenes to enhance the historic building’s beauty and advertise for their businesses.

University of Saint Francis President Sister Elise Kriss said decorators bring their own decorations every year, and then the university staff decorates whatever rooms are not commissioned.

One room Kriss and her sister decorate every year is her office on the mansion’s second floor.

“We go shopping at the end of each season and get a lot of decorations on sale,” Kriss said, gesturing to a tall Christmas tree near her desk that sparkled with bright red and green ribbons and ornaments.

The mansion known as Brookside, which opened this weekend, will be open again Saturday and Sunday. Seniors can go Wednesday at a reduced fee.

Brookside was once the summer home of Fort Wayne industrialist John Bass, whose well-traveled family decorated each room with inspiration from different countries and peoples, Kriss said.

The house was originally built between 1887 and 1891, but a steam boiler explosion in 1902 destroyed the original, and the family rebuilt the house on its original foundation in 1903, according to pamphlets from the university.

The Bass family sold Brookside to the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 1944 to house Saint Francis College, which was originally in Lafayette, the pamphlets said.

All rooms on all three floors of the 24,000-square-foot sandstone mansion are decorated and open to visitors during Christmas in the Castle.

Saint Francis students, staff, alumni and volunteers are scattered throughout the house to point out special features and answer questions.

The mansion’s turrets are what makes it look like a castle, Kriss said. There are two turrets at the back of the building and one at the front.

Another special feature of the castle is the Moorish Room near the entrance of the dining room on the first floor, said Christmas in the Castle coordinator Janet Patterson.

On one side is a large stained-glass window that reflects onto a painted Moroccan frieze and intricate wood carvings.

A pamphlet said the room has been completely restored, down to the gilding and glazing of the original murals and the refinished wood floors.

Patterson imagines the Moorish room is where the Bass family enjoyed drinks and cocktails with guests before fancy dinner parties.

“This is a real treasure for us have,” Patterson said.

As visitors wandered the mansion on Sunday, they echoed her sentiments.

Steve Hackman, who has homes in Fort Wayne and Columbus, said going to the Bass mansion for Christmas in the Castle has become a hallmark of his holiday calendar for its timeless architecture and festive decorations.

“This is one of Fort Wayne’s greatest prizes,” Hackman said. “It’s unbelievable.”