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Gingerbread houses line Mt. Pleasant's Main Street

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 9:23 p.m.
Barbara Denning | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Norvelt's Samantha Eyth (far right), won the 2012 Dream House Award in the inaugural Mt. Pleasant Borough Gingerbread House Tour Display & Competition for her creation, 'Welcome To Gingerbread Land.' She appears with (from left) Jeff Landy, Mt. Pleasant Borough manager; Nadia Speney, marketing supervisor of O'Rourke Cut Glass & Gifts, which donated the award; and Christine Barnhart, who with Landy co-coordinated the event.

Samantha Eyth has helped line Mt. Pleasant's Main Street with gingerbread houses for the holiday season.

Twenty-six of the festive creations, including one named “Welcome to Gingerbread Land” made by Norvelt's Eyth, highlight 11 storefronts along the downtown portion of the borough's primary thoroughfare — also known as state Route 31 — as part of its inaugural Gingerbread House Tour Display & Competition.

Two additional houses are on display at the Mt. Pleasant Public Library at 120 S. Church St. and at O'Rourke Crystal and Glass at the Mt. Pleasant Glass Center at 420 Route 31 East.

“You're going to see what the Christmas spirit is meant to be in a small town on Main Street in this country,” said borough Manager Jeff Landy, who co-coordinated the event with Christine Barnhart of East Huntingdon. “The only thing missing will be the smell of fresh gingerbread.”

Through Dec. 21, members of the public are free to offer bids to purchase the houses, for which proceeds will directly benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, through Dec. 21.

Barnhart — the wife of U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Brian Barnhart, commander of the borough's VFW Post 3368 — said she could not be more pleased with how the event is unfolding in its first year.

“With 28 homes turned in, that's more than I thought we would get,” said Barnhart, a veteran gingerbread house maker who since 2007 annually took part in the competition held in downtown Pittsburgh. “The are really nice. They are all really nice quality.”

Eyth's exhibit — submitted to the competition's professional category — garnered her the its 2012 Dream House Award for best overall display.

Noted local glass cutter Peter O'Rourke donated Eyth's award, a crystal goblet, which rests beside her winning entry in the storefront of Gradler Studio at 701 W. Main St. in the borough.

“I was so excited to win, and it was such an honor to receive that,” said Eyth, the owner of Samantha's Sweets in Norvelt.

Inspired by the illustrations of children's author Jan Brett in her book “Gingerbread Friends,” Eyth's gingerbread house overflows with mounds of marshmallow fondant, rivers of royal icing and all held together by about a sleighful of sugar paste.

The display includes one building named the “Mt. Pleasant Sweet Shop,” and another which possesses the unique, triangular-shaped roof reminiscent of so many of the original homes constructed in the village of Norvelt during the Great Depression.

“I just started cutting cardboard; I'm an artist so I just dive into things and create,” Eyth said.

Eyth and the makers of the other gingerbread houses dropped off their entries Nov. 16 and 17 at the Mt. Pleasant VFW.

While Eyth brought home the event's initial award, the People's Choice Award is still up for grabs.

Ballot boxes will await those who stop in to the various local businesses where the houses are on display, Barnhart said. Judging for the People's Choice Award will end Dec. 21.

Barnhart said she will pick up the ballot boxes on Dec. 20 and that the People's Choice Award will be announced thereafter.

To determine the recipient of the Dream House Award, three judges for each of the event's six categories looked for creativity/originality, overall/appearance, appeal, difficulty and precision/neatness.

Other winning houses in the event's professional category were “Log Cabin” (second place) and “The 1870” (third place).

Winners in the event's five additional categories included:

• Adult — “Splendid Sweet Escape” (first place), “Warrior Wishes and Gingerbread Kisses” (second place) and “Christmas in the Highlands”

• Family — “Cozy Christmas Cottage” (first place), “Family Fun” (second place) and “An Old Fashioned Christmas” (third place)

• High School — Gingerbread Library (first place, only entrant)

• Middle School — “Christmas on the Yough” (first place), “Ultimate Gingerbread House” (second place) and “High Voltage Gingerbread House (third place)

• Elementary — “Old Fashioned Candy Shoppe” (first place), “Sniffle House” (second place) and “Scout Camp” (third place)

Landy said each and every entry is worth a closer look.

“I was amazed at the quality and creativity of these houses, especially since this is the first year we've had it and the first year for so many contestants doing it,” he said. “Hopefully, it will generate interest in visiting the stores and viewing their window displays and it will give Mt. Pleasant another holiday attraction activity.

“I think the stores' owners and employees also did a good job of setting up the window displays. It shows the effort they made to highlight the houses.”

Barnhart lavished praise upon O'Rourke and Nadia Speney, his marketing coordinator at the business, for their willingness not only to display one of the house but also to provide the award.

“They were so eager to listen to me, and they've been a real big help,” Barnhart said.

Speney said the entire effort reflects positively on Mt. Pleasant.

“Since I've been working here, I've found that Mt. Pleasant is just such a nice community,” Speney said. “This is another example of that.”

Eyth said she took note of the event's true value — raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project — a Jacksonville, Fla.-based initiative with the mission of raising awareness and enlisting the public's aid for the needs of injured service members, according to the organization's website,

“I think that is wonderful. I'm really excited that the money that can be made from the gingerbread house auction will go to that cause,” Eyth said.

Minimum bids for the gingerbread houses are $25 per house and $100 for the “Dream House.”

All checks can be made to the Borough of Mt. Pleasant in care of the Wounded Warrior Project.

Purchased homes will be available to top bidders after Dec. 21, Barnhart said.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or