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The Coleman’s Collection at the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center, now known as Winter Wonderland, is a dazzling array of lights, animated scenes, busy elves, and enchanted forests with woodland animals. It began over 50 years ago at the Coleman’s Nursery and Garden Center, as the Christmas Wonderland (later, Winter Wonderland). Junie and Millie Lancaster inherited local Coleman’s Nursery, at which Junie had been customer, friend, and employee for decades. Inspired by Walt Disney’s Small World ride at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, the couple opened Christmas Wonderland to the public for the first time in 1965. A feature attraction was an animatronic sleeping Santa Claus snoring with a feather hovering over his nose, with a sign at the foot of the bed reading “Don’t wake until December 24th”. The display grew over the years, featuring a separate building called the Snow Palace by the 1970s, with a full carnival of clowns doing tricks and ice skating on mirrors.
By 1982, the Coleman Collection included 260 animated figures and over 100,000 lights. With rides for children, lines for Santa, and the smells of popcorn and hot chocolate in the air, the location became a required holiday stop for over 100,000 visitors every year. After a fire broke out in 1982 destroying four buildings, the community came together to donate over $20,000, decorations, displays, and even a hand-carved carousel.
The Winter Wonderland suffered another setback in 2003, after the Lancasters had passed away and the new owners were retiring. The property was sold to the Portsmouth YMCA and the Churchland Library. However, the Portsmouth Museums Foundation, in partnership with the City of Portsmouth, bought the display in 2004, and displayed the collection at the Olde Towne Courthouse Galleries, now currently home to the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center.
Well, you can still see vintage footage of the original display, interviews with locals, and a promotional video from Coleman Nursery Christmas Wonderland1994. Check out these youtube videos to the see how the Coleman’s Nursery Christmas Wonderland has evolved over the years.
After a two-year hiatus, the display is once again ready to brighten the holidays. The Coleman Collection is still displayed during Winter Wonderland at Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center after all of these years; and features new displays. It’s open to the public Wednesday – Thursday- Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.. The museums are closed Mondays and Tuesdays except for December 27th and 28th when hours are 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m, and closed on Christmas Day. Admission cost for this event is only $3 (children under 2 are free). Tickets can be purchased here or on the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center website.
The nativity scene from the same collection is hosted at the Monumental United Methodist Church, at the corner of Queen and Dinwiddie Street, and can be viewed on Saturdays: December 4, 11, & 18, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Sundays, December 5, 12, & 19, 12:30 – 5:00 p.m. Admission to the Nativity display is free. Be sure to check out our up-coming events page for the most up-to-date information.
There are no plans for the Winter Wonderland and the Coleman collection to slow down or stop being displayed anytime soon (baring any unforeseen circumstances). In fact, the visitors voices are being heard; and there are plans for it to grow, become more accessible, and more sustainable then ever before. As with the tradition of the Coleman collection, you never know what you will find this year or next! Will you become one of the yearly regulars to be a part of the Colemans legacy? We sure hope so!