Winter wonderland: Expansive miniature village brings holiday cheer to retired Carmel nurse, neighbors


The meticulous planning of Snow Village is evident in the intricate details, from the twinkling downtown storefront displays to the festive community gathering spaces and bucolic farms lining the outskirts of town.

And it all fits in a first-floor room in Althea Albritton’s Carmel home. Most of it, anyway.

Since obtaining approximately 15 tiny ceramic holiday buildings that had been collecting dust in a friend’s attic more than 20 years ago, Albritton has expanded the collection to permanently wrap the walls twice and fill a central, long rectangular table, with a bit of the village spilling into an adjacent living area.

“I caught the bug, and Raymond, my husband, has been tolerant,” Albritton said. “I’ve added to it over the years.”

In addition to tolerating the village, Albritton’s husband and son have helped it grow, adding a layer of shelves around the room to increase the village footprint and wiring its tiny lights to a switch on the wall.

Snow Village has become so large that it’s not worth the effort of setting it up and tearing it down for the holiday season. Rather, the collection is covered with black bags from the end of January through early November to protect it from the sun, dust and other potential dangers.

Most years, residents in the Ashbrooke neighborhood in southwest Carmel gather for the annual Snow Village unveiling. That includes Jude Magers, who has lived near the Albrittons for 30 years and has enjoyed watching the display grow. Magers grew up near a railroad track and said she especially enjoys the sound of the model train that circles the town’s aquatic area.

“It’s been a wonderful way to bring people together,” she said. “Particularly if we have new neighbors, it provides a nice focus and conversation.”

Albritton, a mother of two adult sons and retired military veteran and nurse, said her favorite parts of the village are a 1950s-era Marsh grocery store, an antique store with its own even-tinier village in the window display and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle shop.

Most of the buildings are made by Minnesota-based Department 56, but Albritton has added pieces from other manufacturers to give the village her own flair, including many of the village’s vehicles that she has picked up from truck stops during her travels.

“I’m not a purist,” Albritton said. “There are some people who will not put anything else other than the original.”

Albritton said she doesn’t plan to expand the village any further, although she may swap out a building or other feature from year to year. The only more frequent change occurs with a roaming Sasquatch, who often relocates within the display. Allbritton enjoys challenging her guests to find Sasquatch each time they visit.

In a world often filled with busyness and hectic schedules, Albritton said she most enjoys the nostalgia and simplicity of life in her Snow Village.

“It brings a sense of calm, days when life seemed less complicated,” she said. “It takes me back to a time of neighbors and peacefulness and the holiday season.”

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Althea Albritton aboard the USS Nevada submarine in the Pacific Ocean circa 2004 during a U.S. Navy training mission. (Photo courtesy of Althea Albritton)

Serving her country, community

Althea Albritton grew up in the Navy town of Norfolk, Va., but when she joined the military, she served as a nurse in the Air Force.

More than a decade later, she transferred to the Navy, fulfilling a longtime dream. One of her favorite memories from her military days is serving aboard the USS Nevada submarine during a training mission.

“I lucked out. I was in the right place at the right time,” Albritton said of being selected for the mission. “We were out in the Pacific – somewhere – for five days. That was fascinating.”

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Capt. Althea Albritton at her U.S. Navy retirement ceremony in 2006. (Photo courtesy of Althea Albritton)

Albritton spent 32 years in the military, serving nearly 20 years as a reserve with the Navy Nurse Corps. She retired as a captain in 2006.

In addition, Albritton worked at St. Vincent Stress Center, specializing in psychiatric nursing, and as a school nurse at Carmel High School’s freshman center. She has been fully retired for more than a decade.