Along with playing a significant role in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, Westport's notoriety is based on its reputation as an artist's colony. Steeped in the arts as much today as it was back then, creative and talented individuals continue to flock to the Westport community, perhaps because it's not a typical affluent suburb.

Resplendent in unique architectural dwellings, residents enjoy designing homes that reflect their own distinct personalities and needs. This is demonstrated in the diversity of the five "remarkable residences" featured in the Westport Historical Society's 2010 Holiday House Tour.

Kicking off the holiday season, the 24th annual fundraiser is on Sunday, Dec. 5 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A Twilight Soiree follows the tour from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Dorothy Curran, president of the Westport Historical Society, said that she is continually looking for interesting houses for the tour.

"It's a year-round process," she said.

Along with finding "remarkable residences," Curran said homeowners have to be willing to get out their holiday décor quickly and efficiently because, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, "it's a fast turnaround."

Curran said no matter what holiday one celebrates, it's fun to see all of the seasonal tabletop and floral decorations at each of these venues.

"Some people think, `I don't celebrate Christmas, why should I go?'" she said. "Many of the homeowners themselves don't celebrate Christmas but it's the seasonal décor that's fascinating to see."

Curran said she is delighted with the selection of houses featured in this year's tour.

"The houses were chosen to represent an array of styles and vintages," she said. Curran noted that although some historical societies in neighboring towns only include vintage homes on their tours, the Westport Historical Society offers an eclectic mix of modern architectural design along with a sample of Westport's vintage homes.

She said the committee takes a look at residences that have won industry awards and dwellings where homeowners have added their own personal touches.

"We think it's interesting to see what the owners have put together," Curran said.

For example, visitors on his year's Holiday House Tour will be treated to an up-close view of a "distinctive private art collection."

"We're all very excited about the homes on the tour and the stories behind them," Curran said. "One of the homes won a preservation award 10 years ago, but has continued to improve. Antique lovers will adore the interior décor and antique English furnishings matched+ to the 1840 year of original construction, and kitchen cabinets made from attic floorboards. Another Queen Anne-style home won awards for new construction. Using sumptuous patterns and textures, old and new, and a bit of dry humor, the interior designer reinterprets high Victorian style for today's tastes. By contrast, we have another more recent renovation, near Compo Beach, is a triumph of maximizing views, serenity and casual comfort within the constraints of Zoning and FEMA."

Describing the Compo Beach residence as a "consummate Westport beach house," Curran said that the "ingenuous design" includes window shades that pull up from the bottom so that the homeowner could enjoy the sun and sky and still maintain a semblance of privacy.

Local environmentalists will enjoy visiting a geothermal `SMART' house located on a Saugatuck Riverfront property. Although it's a 6,000-square-foot new construction, Curran said that "all of its heating and cooling is sourced from the earth."

All of the energy systems are hooked up to a corresponding power grid so that everything could be "one switch turns everything off from London, if they wanted to," she said.

Curran also pointed out the home's interior has many features that aren't often seen such as a three-story, sky-lit kitchen area. The property also has access to its own pond, river and twin bridges to a private island.

Although these two buildings are not officially part of the Holiday House Tour, visitors are encouraged to stop into the Historical Society's historic Bradley-Wheeler House, at 25 Avery Place. In celebration of Westport's 175th anniversary, the historic Adams Academy, a 19th century one-room schoolhouse, on 15 Morningside Drive North, will also be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Westport Holiday House tour tickets are available in advance for $40 for Historical Society members and $50 for non-members. They may be purchased and picked up at the Westport Historical Society, 25 Avery Place, Westport. Children under 12 not permitted. On Sunday, Dec. 5, all tour tickets are $55. There is no snow date and the Holiday House Tour will take place regardless of the weather. There is an additional $50 charge for the Twilight Soirée, which features wine, hors d'oeuvres and a silent auction.

"All of the home owners and designers Catherine Cleare and Patricia Miller will be available to talk informally about their work," Curran said.

The proceeds from the two benefits will support the Westport Historical Society's programs.

For more information about the Holiday House Tour or Twilight Soirée, contact the Westport Historical Society at (203_ 222-1424 or at www.westporthistory.org.