Santa returns to Riverbank

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Children have been coming to tell Santa Claus what they want for Christmas at the Santa House on Front Street for the past several decades.

The Santa House will be open from Dec. 6-23. Hours are 6-8:30 p.m., Sunday-Friday and 5-8:30 p.m., Saturdays. CDC Guidelines will be in place to keep everyone safe as they visit Santa Claus.

There will be markers on the ground to keep visitors 6 feet apart for social distancing while in line. Miss Merry Christmas and the Christmas Belles will check temperatures and provide hand sanitizer as people enter.

There will be a decorated picket fence around Santa’s chair to keep everyone at a safe distance.  Children will stand near Santa to have their photograph taken. If planning to visit the Santa Claus House on a Saturday, armbands must be purchased to enter the riverbank area. Armbands are $10 regardless of age. Armbands are not required on the other evenings. The visit to the Santa House is free.

Santa House History

By Hannah Richardson

People might not be aware that the house has quite the history behind it. The original Santa House was built in 1959-60, in memory of Barry Gunter. Barry, 4, and his mother, Jeanette Katherine Maggio, went to Shreveport one December day in 1957. On the way back, they realized they forgot to pay Santa a visit. Barry said that it was okay, and they would see him next year. Unfortunately, Barry passed away in October of the following year and didn’t get another chance to see Santa. The first Santa house was built in memory of Barry and to make sure other children had a chance to visit Santa Claus in Natchitoches. The Santa House was remodeled in 1994.

The remodeled house was dedicated to the late Charlie Maggio, Barry’s uncle. Maggio, along with Charles Solomon, were known for creating the Christmas set pieces along the riverbank during the holiday season when the festival was still new. With the remodeling of the riverbank in 2018 came a brand new Santa House. The new Santa House is almost twice as large as the previous one, with approximately 200 square feet of space. The house has a concrete floor and is constructed in the same design and with the same wood shape shingles on the Riverbank Stage and the adjacent bathrooms. Santa’s new house is heated and cooled, and has benches inside for those waiting to give Santa their Christmas lists.

Santa’s chair is placed in a way so that when the children are face to face to Santa, they can also look out to Cane River through the nearly 5 foot tall glass pane windows. With Santa seated close to the windows, entrance and egress to the building is a straight shot through the center of the 14 foot wide building. The Santa House’s courtyard also has a deeper meaning behind it.

The plaque in the courtyard is dedicated to Brooke Hennigan, daughter of Margaret and Jim Kilcoyne and the 1993 Miss Merry Christmas, who passed away in 1994. Her parents, faculty members at Northwestern State University, created memorial scholarships in the names of their children, Brooke and later, Clay, who passed away in 2012.

The first scholarships were originally given to two Natchitoches Central High School students in 1994-95 and 1998-99, but are now presented to junior and senior business and business education majors at Northwestern State University.