Lighted history

Published 10:07 pm Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Phillips-Dawson House sits on Bank Street. It was first built by Horace B. Phillips, who worked in the lumber business, in 1880.

Candlelight Tour highlights downtown’s historic buildings

This year, the Suffolk Nansemond Historical Society will once again host its annual Candlelight Tour, which features historic buildings in the city.

This marks the 35th anniversary of the tour, which raises money for the society. Eleven buildings will be open for guests to tour and gain a bit of history.

Sue Woodward, a volunteer with the Historical Society and the original chairman who started the tour, said the society chose buildings that feature the history of downtown Suffolk.

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She said she couldn’t pick a favorite building on the tour because the Historical Society has been involved with most of them in some way, and she feels close to all of them.

“We feel ownership in all of them,” she said. “I can’t pick a favorite.”

The tour will be held Dec. 3-4 from 3 to 7 p.m. each day. Adult tickets are $15 and may be purchased at the train station or the Visitor Center, 524 N. Main St., or at A. Dodson’s, 2948 Bridge Road. Tickets for children under 12 are $5 each.

Here are details on the featured buildings:


The Phillips-Dawson House

The house that sits on Bank Street was first built by Horace B. Phillips, who worked in the lumber business, in 1880.

The building originally faced Franklin Street, but between 1910 and 1920, Phillips built a grand entrance facing Bank Street. Throughout the years, he also built several additions on the home.

After Phillips and his wife passed away in 1941, the home was purchased by Dr. Challis Dawson and his wife. While Dawson’s wife used one room to teach piano lessons, Dawson saw his patients in another part of the home. Eventually, their son, Gerard, took ownership of the home, but when he passed away in 2002, he left the home to the Historical Society.


Historic College Court homes

Tucked behind the building on the corner of Main and Finney Avenue, the bungalow homes of College Court were built between 1915 and 1920 by John Pinner, who purchased the land after Sallie Finney and her sisters closed their school for girls.

Pinner built a series of bungalows around a central courtyard, with a gate at the entrance.

“College Court was a really fashionable place to live,” Woodward said.

Lawyers, doctors and other well-known professionals lived in the bungalows, she said.

In 2000, the Historical Society purchased the property and renovated the cottages. Residents still occupy the houses.

Houses 2, 3 and 4 will be featured on this year’s tour.


Riddick’s Folly

The home built in 1837 by Mills Riddick is the oldest building featured on the tour. Riddick built the house with insurance money after a fire consumed his original home.

After Mills Riddick’s death, his son, Nathaniel, lived in the home with his wife and five children until the Civil War.

The family vacated the home during the war, and it was taken over by Union soldiers. At one point, the house was used as headquarters for Union leader Maj. Gen. John J. Peck.

The family returned after the war ended, and Riddick descendents stayed in the home until 1967.

Ten years later, Riddick’s Folly was turned into a house museum.

The massive house has four floors, 21 rooms and 16 fireplaces, and the entire house is open to the public during the tour.


Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum

The Seaboard Station was built in 1885, and it continued to operate as a train station until 1983.

In 1907, a train service to Norfolk was added that continued passenger service until 1956.

After it stopped functioning as a station, it was used as a freight office for many years.

In 1994, a tremendous fire destroyed the interior of the building, and it was in danger of being demolished.

The Historical Society took up the station and reopened in August 2000 as a museum.


Main Street churches

Four historic churches will also be featured on the tour, and they are Suffolk Christian Church, built in 1860; St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, built in 1895; First Baptist Church, built in 1957 and Main Street Methodist Church, built in 1916.

“The churches are an integral part of downtown history,” Woodward said.

She said their communities have been a part of Suffolk even longer than their current buildings.

The churches will be open from 3 to 5 p.m. on both tour days. All of the churches will have music playing for guests to enjoy. For the tour, Main Street Methodist will have a 12-foot Chrismon tree, decorated with handmade ornaments.


Obici Healthcare Foundation building

Although it was built just a year ago, the Obici Healthcare Foundation building was designed to resemble the Victorian design of the Gay House that sat on the property previously.

However, that isn’t the only reason it was selected for the tour, Woodward said.

The home’s décor reflects the tastes of Amedeo Obici and holds several pieces of his art collection. It also includes some of his furniture, and the fireplace is a replica of the one in Obici’s original home.

Woodward also said a scrapbook of photos of Obici and his wife at their home will be on display during the candlelight tour.