In 2012 I attended “A Splendid Feast” at the Elling House in Virginia City. Held in the sprawling Gothic Revival home originally occupied by John & Mary Elling and their ten children, the event is an annual fundraiser for the nonprofit Elling House Arts & Humanities Center. The home and its expansive yard, now owned by Toni James (who also owns Rank’s Mercantile), sit on 26 city lots.
“It’s a multiuse house at this point,” laughs James, who bought the house in 1995 and now lives upstairs in the former maids quarters. In addition to A Splendid Feast, the Center hosts a Chautauqua the third Saturday of each month January through April, Literary Events, Art Shows, and Concerts. It’s also an Inn – there are three rooms, and I’m proud to say I was the first registered guest.
A Splendid Feast was first held in 2008, and organized entirely by volunteers. Chef Amy Kelley— a Virginia City resident who with her husband Scott owns The Gravel Bar and Banditos in Ennis. Amy cooked for this event for five years and is now on the board. She remembers preparing the feast before there was an adequate kitchen stove and how she had to cook food off-premises until 2011. “When we got the stove I felt utterly spoiled,“ laughs Amy. “I just love this house, the history, the charm, and the event embodies the whole spirit of Christmas. It’s 100% put on by small-town volunteers, and it just amazes me how so few people can pull together such a spectacular evening.”
Held each December, the event kicks off around 6:30 when guests park in the back lot and are lead to the house by dozens of glowing ice luminaries. Bundled in heavy coats and snow boots and carrying bottles of wine, attendees walk up the steps of the twinkling porch and through the door where coats are taken. Bottles of wine are whisked away and tagged as guests are escorted into the glowing parlor and offered a glass of their wine or a cup of wassail. A fire crackles in the fireplace, the rooms—decorated by volunteers—positively glow with golden light, sparkling evergreen swags, shiny glass ornaments and holiday cheer.
After a good long while, it’s time to sit down for dinner. When I went, we were welcomed by the then-Board President Judy King–dressed festively as Mary Elling, who entertained guests in the very ballroom where we sat. Mary welcomed us with a Charles Dickens quote and a toast before Stacy Gatewood gave us a rundown on the menu. Our $50 tickets entitled us to Wassail and a four-course meal of Wild Mushroom Bisque; salad with Butter Lettuce, Pears, Pomegranate Seeds, Red Onion, Blue Cheese and Citrus Vinaigrette; Cornish Game Hen with Huckleberry Port Glaze, and dessert of either Rum Cake or Lemon Pear Gingerbread.
The food was exceptional! Conversation hummed, glasses clinked, wait staff buzzed back and forth filling wine glasses and baskets of freshly baked bread. Coffee was served and guests lingered before once again piling on winter layers and heading out into the brisk night air. As each of us approached the door, we were given a handmade gift. That year it was an ornament made of decoupage sheet music tied with a red ribbon: the perfect memento from a perfect evening.
To learn more about A Splendid Feast and The Elling House go to EllingHouse.org