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story.lead_photo.caption In the country village, a train can be seen winding past a makeshift drive-in movie theater, where patrons are watching “White Christmas.” Terrance Armstard/News-Times - Photo by Terrance Armstard

Walking into Kay and Paul Smith’s Christmasville, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sights.

Tables filled with miniature villages, Christmas trees full to bursting with ornaments and “It’s a Wonderful Life” on repeat will greet those who walk through the door of this winter wonderland.

“I fell in love with Christmas houses when I was a kid and True Value Hardware had them in the window. Could never get my mom or dad to ever buy any, so when I grew up and got married and had kids, I started buying houses,” Kay Smith said.

Kay began collecting the miniature houses 35 or 40 years ago in her estimate. Several years ago, she and Paul ran out of room at their house and realized they wanted to share their holiday villages and decorations with their community.

“We live out in the sticks. People would come out for a weenie roast and they’d get to see it, but that’s about it,” Kay said. “We didn’t just want our friends to see it, we wanted lots of people to see it.”

Four years ago, Kay and Paul found their first Christmasville location, an old pool hall in Smackover that didn’t have any electricity. Kay said they powered their villages and Christmas lights with a generator plugged into the meter outside.

The following year, they moved to a business in Strong. However, they were unable to operate outside the business’ regular hours, so they decided to try again, this time in El Dorado.

Last year, Robert Kelley, owner of the Professional Cosmetology Education Center, offered to lease a space to the Smiths for $1. They set up shop in the same location this year, at 110 Rowell St. in El Dorado.

“He said ‘well, how does $1 sound,’” Kay said. “He let us move in immediately and we started setting up and we had over 600 people last year.”

This year, the Smiths began setting up their Christmas villages in October. Kay said she was still hurrying to complete some elements of the displays in late November.

Each table inside Christmasville has a different theme. Ranging from seaside villages to Western outposts to bustling cities and even a carnival, there is something for everyone in the miniature villages alone.

Gallery: Christmasville in El Dorado

There are also several trees designated specifically for Hallmark ornaments. One is the galaxy tree, which features characters and set pieces from science fiction and fantasy media, like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who and more.

“They love it. We’ve had some that come in, they don’t care nothing about the houses, they only want to see the Hallmark ornaments. We have some that come in that want to know if we’ve got any churches. They just want to see churches,” Kay said. “Everybody who comes enjoys it.”

Kay and Paul Smith decided to start sharing their collection with the public as a way to remember Kay’s late daughter, Tammy Peterson. With a special place by the entrance, a tree for Tammy has become the focal point of the display for Kay.

“We put [her] tree up and this became the reason we do it. We get to witness to people, I’ve gotten to talk to mothers who have lost their child and have not come to terms with it and helped them come to terms,” Kay said. “There’s always good in tragedy … and I can’t tell you how many people have been saved just from her story.”

Peterson was a student at Shawnee Baptist College when she was killed in an automobile accident. Her tree contains years of Hallmark ornaments given to her by Kay, a tradition she shares with all of her five children; white wings which serve as remembrance ornaments; and several Disney themed ornaments, specifically a few from “The Little Mermaid,” a movie Peterson loved.

“We try to put it where it reminds you – gives you a memory,” Kay said. “It’s a building full of memories.”

Paul Smith builds all the tables they display their Christmas villages on. He also carves landscapes for the sets, like mountains, as well as other decorative elements like stairs and cobblestone walls.

“My husband – he’s the visionary as far as what they look like,” Kay said, explaining that Paul designs the cities and villages himself.

This year, Kay and Paul added a new element to Christmasville: an area specifically for children. One Christmas tree sits inside the room, which is in the back of their space, filled with Peterson’s collection of Beanie Babies.

“[Children] can come in and touch and play and color. They can touch all those little things, they can pick them up. It gives them something other than ‘don’t touch, don’t touch,’” Kay said.

They also have a special tree for local heroes. Last year, the Smiths featured a military themed tree, which honored veterans from the United States military as well as those from any countries allied with the U.S.

This year, they wanted to focus on “hometown heroes.” Ornaments handmade by Kay adorn the trees and feature photos of those recognized. The people on the hometown heroes tree ranges from police officers and fire fighters to doctors and teachers.

“Whoever you think is a hometown hero to you, send their picture. We put them on the tree,” Kay said.

Christmasville is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It will also be open on Christmas Eve from 2-5 p.m. It is located at 110 Rowell St. and is free to anyone.

“We wanted to keep it free. It was important to keep it free because I was a single mom. I couldn’t afford to take my kid’s to things and spend a bunch of money,” Kay said.

Each village contains a nativity scene – some obvious and others less so. Kay said it was important to highlight the joy of Christmas, while also remembering the reason for the season. She said she will continue Christmasville as long as she can.

“We want to keep doing it for as long as I’m capable of,” Kay said.

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or cbutler@eldoradonews.com.

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