Saturday, April 13, 2024

Old Wilmington by Candlelight house tours are this weekend

Sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church
Sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church

This weekend, the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society is hosting the 43rd annual Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour.

Thirteen sites will open to the public, from neoclassical villas to contemporary bungalows, altogether representing the breadth of Wilmington’s history and architecture.

At the Latimer House, guests are transported back to Christmas in Victorian Wilmington. “Many of our 21st century Christmas traditions trace their origins to the Victorian Era,” Carol Bragale, the Historical Society’s archivist, said. “Prince Albert brought the table-top Christmas tree from Germany to England after marrying Queen Victoria. When illustrations of the royal family around a Christmas tree appeared in the press, the fashion spread across England and America.”

Other Christmas traditions with roots in the Victorian Era include popular carols, the modern Santa Claus, and Christmas cards. Additionally, local author and military historian Wilbur D. Jones Jr.’s White House Christmas Ornament collection will be exhibited at the Latimer House.

Released each year by the White House Historical Association, the ornaments represent most presidential administrations.

First Presbyterian Church is one of three historic houses of worship on this year’s tour. The congregation, organized in 1817, is celebrating their 200th anniversary.

“Two hundred years is a long time,” Joan Ruden, the congregation’s historian, said. “Presbyterians worshiped in Wilmington since the 1760s, but were not recognized as a congregation until 1817.”

She encourages guests to observe the pulpit Bible in the sanctuary, which was stolen by a Union officer during Wilmington’s 1865 occupation and returned to the congregation in 1928.

“Also, don’t miss the Kenan Chapel’s beautiful stained glass windows and a new gathering space completed for our anniversary,” Ruden continued. A musical program begins at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3. The program will feature carols, organ, and brass performances led by the church’s chancel choir and Wilmington Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

Victorian Ornaments at the Latimer House.
Victorian Ornaments at the Latimer House.

Near the entrance of Oakdale Cemetery, John Brunelle’s contemporary interpretation of a shotgun bungalow is the newest house on tour.

“I definitely wanted a contemporary house,” Brunelle said. “The only way to get the Historic Preservation Commission’s approval was to make the house look like a bungalow while maintaining a contemporary interior.”

In keeping with the architectural style, the home features mid-century modern Christmas décor.

“I have been dutifully buying mid-century modern decorations on eBay and at auctions since August,” Brunelle said. “Others, like the wreath on the front door, I made myself. There was a lot of trial and error, but I am having a blast!” 

The home’s centerpiece is a vintage 1960s revolving aluminum tree, loaned by Mark Gansor, for exhibition. Gansor is the local artist who completed the Latimer House hallway restoration earlier this year.

The 43rd Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour is Saturday, from 4 – 8 p.m., and Sunday, from 1 – 5 p.m. Tickets are $40 and may be purchased at Harris Teeter, the Ivy Cottage, or online at wilmingtonbycandlelight.org.

All proceeds benefit the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society Inc., and the continued preservation of the Latimer House.

Submitted by Travis Gilbert

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