Like many historic towns, Bellefonte boasts a number of impressive mansions.
But this month, you would be hard-pressed to find sweeter homes anywhere else.
During Bellefonte Victorian Christmas, gingerbread houses fill the windows of the Diamond Deli at 103 N. Allegheny St. downtown, continuing a longtime tradition for the annual holiday celebration.
“We can get anywhere from 25 to 50,” said Karen Grubb, a coordinator for the gingerbread house contest. “It just depends on the year.”
Submissions will be on display from Monday to Dec. 19, including during the Dec. 12-14 festival, and then while artists pick up their creations until Dec. 31.
Solo entries are grouped according to age, from children 5 to 7 to adults over 55. There are also categories for groups of teenagers, families and churches.
“We recently added the senior category so we had an inspiration for people who are older and aren’t sure they want to compete with the younger people,” Grubb said.
No matter which division, participants must use gingerbread sheets — not graham crackers or other structural materials as allowed in the past. Ultimately, a completed house must be about 90 to 95 percent edible, excluding the mounting board.
Other than that, though, the only limit is imagination.
Mansions, churches, cottages, train stations, courthouses, schools, stores, Santa’s home: It’s all fair game. One year, Grubb adorned a house with about 60 different things, adding various types of cereal, including Froot Loops, to Halloween candy and other items.
Her daughter once turned to assorted pasta shapes for decorations. For another contest, she crafted chocolate shingles.
“Three bags of (Hershey) Kisses,” Grubb said. “That was a good roof.”
Grubb remembers adults constructing detailed replicas of local mansions and a child building a jailhouse, complete with a tiny sheriff and prisoner.
Several Girl Scouts one time collaborated on a sticky version of the Flintstone family’s cartoon home, made by molding gingerbread over a Pyrex bowl and baking a dome. Grubb also recalled igloos and at least one treehouse.
“I always look forward to seeing what the kids come up with,” she said. “The kids are so creative.”
A panel of judges rates the structures on the use of color and decoration, difficulty of architectural detail, imaginative use of materials, neatness of decoration, uniqueness of display, overall visual presentation and difficulty of decoration.
First-place awards range from $25 to $75, depending on the age category. Every artist receives a participation ribbon.
But for sheer bulk, nothing in Grubb’s recollection tops the work of one of her former Girl Scouts.
The seventh-grader fashioned a towering model of the Centre County Courthouse Annex, one of Bellefonte’s notable Victorian buildings.
“They still talk about that one down there (at the deli) because it was so big and heavy,” Grubb said.
On top of 10 pounds of sugar icing, the girl layered Mike and Ikes and other candy — so much confectionary construction that her family resorted to binding the walls with fishing line to keep them from falling apart in transit.
Grubb chuckled at the memory of the girl’s concern that the line would run afoul of the edible rule and disqualify her.
“She could have put a whole spool of fishing line around it,” Grubb said, “and it still wouldn’t have gone over the 10 percent.”