At the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society’s Phillips-Dawson House on Bank Street, society President Nita Bagnell and fellow members Anne Henderson and Pam Saunders get ready to greet visitors during the Candlelight Tour.

Archived Story

Iconic homes open for tours

Published 8:10pm Saturday, December 1, 2012

The doors of four of downtown Suffolk’s most magnificent historical residences, splendidly outfitted for the holidays, were thrown open Saturday for a Candlelight Tour that continues through today.

In its 36th year, the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society event this year gives visitors a glimpse of festive tablescapes and other interior decorations by local merchants.

“It’s our major fundraiser,” society President Nita Bagnell said. “It probably got started as an effort to raise money for restoration projects that the historical society does.”

Four houses are included in the tour, three on Main Street and the Society’s Phillips-Dawson House on Bank Street.

On the front steps of Prentis House Saturday, Suffolk attorney Fred Taylor, the society’s vice president, gave visitors an insight into what 1862’s Christmas would have been like in Suffolk, with Union troops laying siege to the city during the Civil War.

“There probably wouldn’t have been many people left in Suffolk at that time,” a costumed Taylor said.

“Basically, all you had left here in town were old men and children, and the women were essentially keeping up the home front. I would say for the local people here it was a very somber time.”

The theme of this year’s Candlelight Tour, which changes every year, is tablescapes. Featured merchants’ designs cover a range of eras and styles, Bagnell said.

“Some of them are traditional, but some are quite contemporary, because they are highlighting the merchant that they are representing,” she said.

Taylor’s talk on a Civil War Christmas in Suffolk isn’t the only history presentation of the tour. “Every house will tell you a little bit of history of the house,” Bagnell said.

But the tablescapes were the highlight, with many visitors perhaps hoping to get some ideas or inspiration for their own decorating.

At the Phillips-Dawson house, society member Pam Saunders explained that the table itself was the only piece of furniture left behind by the Dawson family.

“All the other pieces are on loan,” she said, adding that the tablescape is by Ragged Robbin Gifts of Virginia Beach.

Another house in the tour features a tablescape with a fireside tea theme by The 18th Century Merchant in Chesapeake.

The Candlelight Tour runs from 2 to 6 p.m. today. Tickets are $15 per person and $5 for children under 12, available at the Visitor Information Center and Railway Station.



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