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Village donated to Dawn of Hope

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By The Staff

By CINDY SIMPSON

rccindysimpson@bellsouth.net

A Harriman man is sharing a part of Christmas he has kept with him through the years.

Ronnie Westmoreland has spent years building up his Christmas village, Mountain Harbor, a fictional early 1900s Vermont village he created using popular Christmas structures and figu-rines.

For Westmoreland, New England represents Christmas.

“It just seems like Christmas — New England with all the snow,” he said.

Now he and his wife Harriett have decided to donate his village — including a Christmas train — to Dawn of Hope, a Johnson City facility for special-needs individuals.

The decision lies close to the couple’s hearts. Harriett is the mother of Michael Dunn, namesake of the Michael Dunn Center, which caters to individuals with special needs.

Dawn of Hope clients will be able to display the village at the SE Regional Train Center in John-son City.

“The main reason is so more people can see it,” Westmoreland said.

In the past, the Westmorelands had as many as 100 guests who came to see the village.

Now those numbers have dwindled.

Helping an agency like Michael Dunn is also a plus.

“Their adult program is going to be the ones who show it,” Harriett Westmoreland said. “It gives them a project.”

What started on the coffee table years ago moved to the sunroom, dining room and eventually into the downstairs portion of his home.

Now it is a permanent fixture.

“It has been down there six or seven years,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland believes the couple first started the collection around 25 years ago.

It now includes more than 100 structures and several hundred people and animals.

The town’s foundation is built with a variety of materials, including plywood. The hefty weight is part of the reason it is no longer dismantled after the holidays.

“It got so big I couldn’t take it down,” Westmoreland said. “It took a month to put it up.”

He points to Ski Mountain, which took a considerable amount of material to construct.

“It must weight 80 pounds. It had to be strong to support it,” he said.

The streets are made with Styrofoam and white caulking on the plywood base while snow is finely shredded Styrofoam.

Westmoreland said the buildings are a mixture of different brands. None of them are likely originals.

“The design of the buildings has gotten so much better,” he said. “They started designing where you can look inside and see people.”

Several sections of the large village are active, including three waterfalls, a train set, a skating pond and a tram to carry skiers up to Ski Mountain.

For Westmoreland, the village has a story, including industry, social activities and more.

“It is a fishing village,” Westmoreland said. He points out the bay which includes docks.

It also has other industry including maple syrup production, and with five hotels and a rich his-tory it is a tourist attraction.

He even decided to capture its story in some capacity by having friends record a tour of the vil-lage in the role of brother and sister living in the village.

“It kind of gives a personal touch,” he said.

The last section completed is a Christmas garland-covered area with a large waterfall and two swinging bridges.

Westmoreland completed it with his grandson, Brendan Dunn, around three years ago.

Brendan and his siblings, Jacob and Kacey Dunn, enjoy the village immensely, Westmoreland said. He desribed the grandchildren playing with the tiny figurines throughout the town.

“We always do Christmas real big,” he said.

The Westmorelands plan to keep a couple tiny figurines, including a small dog that reminds them of one they used to have.

Westmoreland guesses he put in around 1,000 hours working on his fairy-tale town over the years.

He enjoyed searching for new designs wherever he and Harriett travelled.

“Everywhere we go we go to every Christmas shop there is,” Harriett said.

Even though he loved putting the hours in on his Christmas town, Westmoreland said that he doesn’t intend to put more work on a new one.

Instead, he plans to spend his spare time with his drama group at Faith Promise Church and perfecting his other hobby, golfing.

According to paperwork, Dawn of Hope is responsible for moving the scene to Johnson City, but the train center will work with them for a fundraiser if needed to arrange moving costs.

Harriett began looking at donating the village last year. The Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge didn’t have room for the display, but representatives there put someone from the train center in Johnson City in touch with the Westmorelands.