haunted winterwood

The Ghosts of Christmas Past and “Presents” – Haunted Winterwood


This is a story about the ghosts of past and “presents” in haunted Winterwood Gift and Christmas Shoppe. It is part of our Halloween haunted house series and is Not for sale.



Back in the day when I was a correspondent for the Cape May County Herald, South Jersey’s weekly newspaper, I wrote an article about Winterwood, New Jersey’s oldest Christmas shop. Winterwood is a magical place, not only filled with perfect gifts for all occasions, but as some may tell you, it is also filled with ghosts. One might think, with its twinkling lights, scents of cinnamon and apple, and thousands of Christmas baubles, that this might be the last place ghosts might wish to inhabit. Yet, perhaps that is exactly their attraction.

The building itself is the oldest standing building in the town of Rio Grande, New Jersey. Built in 1722 as the Ephraim Hildreth Homestead, the house stood on its original land for 140 years on a plot next to its current location on Route 9.  The style was known as a telescope home, but a fire of unknown date destroyed one of the three original sections. What is known is that spinster sisters Hester and Lucy Hildreth were the last of the Hildreth family to live in the home, having died in the home in 1949 and 1954 respectively.



When the home was moved and became the Winterwood Gift and Christmas Shoppe in 1978, strange things began to happen. Stuffed animals placed in a circle on the floor, glass ornaments that hung on a tree the night before were found on steps the next morning, and heavy items just toppled off shelves. Footsteps could be heard on the second floor when no one was there, shadowy white figures have been seen in the shop and in the yard, and cherry pipe smoke has been smelled in the no-smoking establishment.

Some thought the ghosts might be from the third section of the house that burned down, but no records of any fatalities exist. Family Bible records do show, however, that several family members were laid to rest in a small cemetery behind the house, and a number of Hildreth children tragically died young from fevers.

Estella C. Hildreth, age 1, 1874


Daniel C. Hildreth, age 2 months, 1884



I was told that another possibility involves a soldier who was hidden in the house by the Hildreth family after he defected from the British Army during the Revolutionary War. As local lore tells it, the wounded soldier carved a beautiful mantelpiece for the fireplace in appreciation for the care and shelter. The mantel  still stands in the back room of the shop, and the sound of the soldier walking up and down the steps is still heard in the shop as well.


Whether the hauntings are the Hildreth sisters, children or a soldier, the ghosts of Christmas past and present seem to be attracted to the candy canes, candles, glitter and gold of Winterwood.



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