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April 19, 2014

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History Of Holiday Decorations Featured In 'Tour Of Homes'

Originally published:
Last modified: 2009-04-01 12:10:13

Weekend participants in the Nathanael Greene Museum's Holiday Tour of historic homes and other sites in Greene County saw how holiday decorations have evolved from the early 19th century to the present.

Those taking part in this year's tour on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon visited six historic sites, including two private residences dating from the 1820s and 1840s, respectively.

Also on the 2001 Holiday Tour were the Doak House Museum, which dates from 1818; "Old College," the oldest building on the Tusculum College campus; the Tusculum College president's home; and Shiloh Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Despite a persistent light rain on Saturday evening, a steady stream of visitors, among them a Greeneville Sun reporter, took part in the tours of the six historic sites.

At the Doak House Museum just off the Erwin Highway in Tusculum, visitors were greeted by students and associates from the Tusculum College Museum Studies Program.

Cindy Lucas, associate director of the Museum Studies Program, said the house was the residence of the Rev. Samuel Witherspoon Doak and his family, which included 13 children, from 1830 until 1864.

Doak was a founding trustee of Tusculum College and the son of the Rev. Samuel Doak, famous frontier preacher and founder of Washington College Academy.

During the weekend Holiday Tour, the house, which was restored by the Greene County Heritage Trust in 1974 and had become a "historic house museum" in 1990, was decorated as it might have been in the 1830s, while it was serving as Rev.

Doak's school as well as his family's home.

Lucas pointed out that the Doak House did not have a Christmas tree, as Christmas trees were not found in most Northeast Tennessee homes until after the Civil War.
In the 1830s, Lucas noted, Christmas decorations, especially in a Northeast Tennessee Presbyterian minister's home, would have been spartan by today's standards.

For the Holiday Tour, the Doak House Museum featured mantel decorations of native greenery. And a large wreath, which had been fashioned from magnolia leaves and dried grasses, graced the wall behind the dining room table.
There were few other indications, at least to the eyes of 21st century Americans, that Christmas was near.

Old College Described

Visitors to the Old College building on the Tusculum College campus were met by George Collins, director of the school's Museum Studies program. Collins also is director of the Doak House Museum and of the President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library, which is housed in the Old College building.

Built in 1841, at a total cost of $4,245.62, Old College originally housed a chapel, classrooms, two literary societies and the school's library. Christmas decorations were low key inside Old College for the Holiday Tour, but history practically oozed from every nook and cranny.

Director Collins proudly pointed out that, in addition to the regular displays related to President Andrew Johnson and his family, several new items had been added for the weekend tour.

Among the rare items on display was the oldest book in the Tusculum College collection. Printed in Venice (Italy) in 1487, the leather-bound volume of Pliny the
Younger's work, "Natural History," was on display under glass.

The book was among 1,400 volumes owned by the Rev. Charles Coffin: a collection that became the core of the early Tusculum College library.

In the same display case were bound volumes of Godey's Lady's Books. The two books were bound volumes of a 19th century women's magazine founded by Louis
Godey and later edited by Sarah J. Hale, whom Collins said worked, among other things, for the establishment of a "National Day of Thanks."

Collins noted that Andrew Johnson donated $20 toward construction of Old College. Although that sum doesn't sound impressive today, Collins noted that, when the building was built, Johnson's contribution was among the largest made.

President's Home

At the Tusculum College President's home, which currently is the residence of Dr. Dolphus Henry and his wife, Judy, more contemporary Christmas decorations were the order of the day.

The entrance hall of the two-story frame structure, which dates from 1909, featured a Christmas tree decorated with white sand dollar shells, among other ornaments.
Alexander Home

The first of the private homes on this year's Holiday Tour was the Holley Creek Road residence of Bill and Dot Alexander.

Portions of the two-story, colonial-style residence date from 1840. While giving a Sun reporter a tour of the elaborately decorated house on Saturday evening, Mrs. Alexander explained that the house originally was owned by the pioneer White family.

She noted that she and her husband have owned the home for 22 years and have made extensive renovations during that time.

For the Holiday tour, the Alexander home featured beautifully decorated Christmas trees in almost every room, in addition of a variety of other decorations.

Even an exercise machine in a second-floor bedroom had been cleverly disguised with Christmas decorations.

Exterior lighting bathed the entire house in white light for the benefit of weekend tour participants.

And a barn adjacent to the house featuring a lighted, life-size nativity scene, including live donkeys, added to the holiday atmosphere at the Alexander residence.

Ricker Home

At the David and Novella Ricker residence on the 107 Cutoff, tour participants visited the restored two-story Federal-style brick residence, which dates from the early 1800s.

Decorated for Christmas both inside and out, the Ricker residence featured a number of unique adornments.

While giving a Sun reporter a tour of his home, David Ricker pointed out handsome holiday wreaths made from "hands" of Burley Tobacco leaves wrapped around barbed wire frames.

"My son and I made those," he said. "We're tobacco farmers, and we decided to try something different with tobacco this year."

In addition to a large, tastefully decorated Christmas tree in the living room, the Ricker residence featured greenery-wrapped staircase railings and a variety of other decorations.

Large evergreen wreaths with red bows dominated the exterior of the house, which also was illuminated with floodlights for the benefit of tour participants and passing motorists.

While conducting the tour, Ricker pointed out extensive new wrought-iron work, including everything from shutter hinges to specially crafted supports for the second-story balcony at the front of the house.

Ricker said all the ironwork had been done by Greeneville craftsman Russell O'Dell
To produce the elaborate balcony supports, Ricker said, O'Dell had worked from a photograph Ricker had taken of similar supports at a house in Abingdon, Va.

Also during the tour of the Ricker residence, visitors were invited to inspect a renovated detached kitchen, which is believed to have been the residence of slaves, during the 19th century.

Cedar logs burning in the small brick building's large kitchen fireplace filled the structure with a soft glow and an inviting scent.

Shiloh Church

The last structure on this year's Holiday Tour was the Shiloh Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which was established by the Rev. Isaac S. Bonham in 1844.
The church was among the earliest Greene County Cumberland Presbyterian congregations.
For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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