Pilgrimage houses are filled with personal artifacts

Published 8:55 am Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In a sea of history, memories and the finest of antebellum wares it’s still possible to play favorites.

During Spring Pilgrimage — which starts this weekend — houses become more like museums open for tour. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still homes full of personal artifacts and favorite things.

For Virginia Morrison of Green Leaves her favorite thing in the house ties history with present day. It’s a portrait of her great-grandmother that hangs in the hallway, but it’s what the woman in the portrait is wearing that makes things special.

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“She has a pin on that her granddaughter later gave to me,” Morrison said. “It’s gold with two circles that go around each other, and in the middle there is a round ball.”

The pin is a part of Morrison’s Pilgrimage attire, because it’s something the tourists enjoy seeing, she said.

“I love wearing that,” she said.

Morrison has lived in Green Leaves, on Rankin Street, all of her life, and the house has been passed through the family for six generations.

Over on Broadway Street, Morrison’s niece Ruthie Coy has a favorite thing as well.

“I have a silver vase that my grandmother gave me that was one of her wedding presents,” Coy said.

The vase was a gift in 1917 and bears Coy’s grandmother’s initials. It is tall, in the art deco style and still useful, Coy said.

“Out of the many things I’ve been fortunate to inherit, that’s one of the things I value the most.”

The vase is stored in a China cabinet during the off-season, but will likely be visible bearing azaleas in the coming weeks.

Bontura dates back to the 1830s and was built by Robert Smith, a black man who was born free in Maryland.

Just down the road at The Parsonage Albert Metcalfe most enjoys his mother’s needlework, which dots the interior of the 1852 house.

“We are the descendants of Betsy Ross,” he said. “And mother and her mother were forever doing needlework.”

Appliqué quilts still in the house show of some of the handwork, Metcalfe said.

“It’s impacted the impression of the house,” he said. “People are fascinated who see her thought for design.”

At Routhland, on Winchester Road, a bit of factual history or perhaps just tall tale has impressed upon Catherine Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe, the wife of Everette, married into the family home that dates to 1824. Now, she maintains it for the annual pilgrimages.

“My husband tells a story of what he calls Aunt Sophie’s armoire,” Ratcliffe said. “When Sophie lived at Cranfield, Jessie James came to rob them. (Sophie) threw all her silver and money on top of (the armoire) that has a false front. She was able to save her valuables.”

Everette Ratcliffe has been telling the story for years, Catherine said, and her boys made a few memories of their own with it.

“When my boys were little they used to hide their favorite baseball cards on top of the armoire.”

When Pilgrimage begins Saturday Ratcliffe and all the other area homeowners will share their favorites with the world. But when the last tour is over each day, the house will again become a home, and the favorite things will be treasured all the more.