HUSON — Jessie Crowley remembers walking through the grounds of the Ninemile Schoolhouse's Christmas Market as a teen, taking in the charm of the handmade wooden toys, the joy among friends and family gathered.
"I just remember how magical it felt. I remember Hanneke," she said of Hanneke Ippisch, who with her husband, Les, bought the historic property in the 1970s and ran the market through 2002. "She always had her long red robe on."
Crowley grew up in Alberton, and she remembers wishing she could spend just one night at the schoolhouse. As an adult, Crowley has gotten her wish a few times over; February will mark three years she's been proprietor of the "maize" yellow schoolhouse in the Ninemile Valley.
She's traded Hanneke's long red robe for a pair of yellow rubber boots, but she's bringing a version of the old tradition back to life. This year, she's again opening the property for holiday festivities, and the Enchanted Christmas Village on this schoolhouse grounds is properly bedecked with elf furniture, a reindeer rest stop, and a station for children to write letters to Santa.
The enchantment means hot cocoa for kiddos, home brew for adults (Angry Elf Sour is among the beers on tap), and soup for all. Santa, of course, will make an appearance.
This year, Crowley hopes to draw enough visitors to bring in some money to support the Montana Down Syndrome Association, but mostly, she hopes the revival pulls community together. At the village, people can relax by the bonfire, listen to carolers, and of course, peek into the elf house.
"Just the gathering of people and bringing everybody together is the main thing I want to do," Crowley said. " ... That was my biggest memory of (the schoolhouse) being here and the magic of it."
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"There was really nothing else like it."
Now, she's among the crew helping to bring the magic back to the schoolhouse, and she joked that Crowley "cracked the whip" a couple of weekends ago and put everyone to work.
"We decorated and decorated. (Crowley) feeds us and keeps everybody happy," Knapp said.
This year, Crowley is hoping the event will raise money for a cause close to her family's heart, Down syndrome. Crowley has volunteered with the Montana Down Syndrome Association for roughly seven years, and she's hoping to bring in $2,000 for the nonprofit, which has a mission to ensure people with Down syndrome have "the necessary tools and meaningful opportunities to be an active member of the community."
Tickets cost $20 for the first child and $15 for subsequent children; adults and children under 1 enter free.