TOWNSEND -- Each year, usually in December, the Reed Homestead in Townsend Harbor is opened for a special day to celebrate the holidays.

This year, on Sunday, Dec. 8, from 1-4 p.m., the 1809 house will be hosting free tours. Not only will the building be decked in seasonal decorations, the aromas of cookies baked in the bee hive oven and mulled cider prepared in the open hearth will greet visitors.

"We want to share the house with the community," said Jeannie Bartovics, site administrator at the Townsend Historical Society.

The house is one of several buildings the society owns and maintains along Route 119 in Townsend Harbor and is the headquarters for the group.

The home features murals painted by Rufus Porter, 1792-1884, an itinerant painter. The carefully preserved scenes show trees, rivers and even a steamboat.

In the early 1800s, wandering artists might paint a mural in return for hospitality and payment. Porter's murals are scattered throughout the region; aficionados journey hundreds of miles to see the one in the Reed house.

Like many 19th-century Americans, Porter was a man of many talents. Not only did he travel the region painting murals for 20 years beginning in 1825, he was also known as an inventor. The busy Yankee worked on developing a hot air balloon and founded the "Scientific American" in 1845. The popular magazine is the oldest American magazine still being published.

In addition to the painted walls, the Reed house retains many 19th-century features. The woodwork is not always what it seems to be. Some is actually "wood-grained," painted to look like a different type of wood.

The kitchen has an open hearth and a beehive oven for baking.

It can be tricky using this old technology, Bartovics said. The wood-heated oven is difficult for modern cooks to use.

"It's a learned art. It takes a while to figure out when the temperature is right," she said.

Volunteer Claire Kauppi will bake cookies from a traditional recipe for the open house. Even though she is experienced and will cook the treats on a special baking tray, there is still a risk the first batch from the beehive oven might come out burned, Bartovics said.

Over the centuries, the Reed house has seen major changes in the way Christmas is celebrated. When the home was first built, Christmas was not the major holiday it is today. It was regarded as a religious holiday for which special church services might be held.

By the 1820s, Christmas began to take on its modern character. People started to purchase and exchange gifts. Santa Claus came into vogue, based on a character from "A Visit from St. Nicholas," a poem written by the son of an Episcopal bishop, published in a 1822.

From church-going to exchanging presents, the holiday season is a time to connect with other people. The open house on Sunday, Dec. 8, from 1-4 p.m. at 72 Main St., gives the volunteers and visitors a chance to see old faces and make new friends, Bartovics said.