Tour of houses decorated for holiday benefits local library

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 22, 2009

Normally closed doors will be open for one day in December.

The annual Friends of the Library Christmas Tour of Homes is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6 with four historic houses on tour.

New houses are chosen each year and Friends of the Library board members like to pick houses that are not open for tours during other parts of the year.

Email newsletter signup

Friends of the Library is a support organization for the Armstrong Library in Natchez.

Lucy Miller, president of Friends of the Library, said each year when the committee sits down to pick houses there are two things considered — appeal and location. And this year’s houses, Miller said, have both great appeal and great locations.

“We think they are all so interesting because they cover a wide span of years and architecture,” Miller said. “What we know is that they are all interesting houses. The tours are about the houses, it is just a bonus that it takes place during Christmas so we can see how they decorate.”

The houses are also conveniently located “in pairs,” Miller said. There are two houses on the north end of Natchez and two on the south end which makes it easy for visitors to only have to park their cars twice to enjoy all four house tours.

On tour this year are Riverview, the Hess House, the Coyle House and the Benoist-Stier House.

Riverview, 47 New St., is the home of John Miller and will serve as this year’s refreshment center. The original structure was built circa 1842 but changed in 1867 when it was purchased by Lt. George M. Brown. Brown’s renovations were compeleted in 1869. The new house featured double parlors, a large sitting room and an office. Also, Brown feared tornadoes greatly and built the wall 13 inches thick with iron rods from foundation to wall tops to provide more support.

Miller purchased the house in the mid 1990s and began a restoration that includes period gas chandeliers, Brown’s original writing desk and a George III chest that is original to the house.

The Hess House, 314 Linton Ave., is the home of Richard Hess. It is an 1890s Queen Anne mansion featuring an unusual three-tiered turret that graces the front of the house.

Inside, the asymmetrical floor plan includes an inglenook and tiled hearth for a porcelain stove. The hardwood floors are bordered with parquet trim.

Behind the house is a carriage house that incorporates servant’s quarters.

The Coyle House, 307 S. Wall St., is the oldest house on tour and one of the oldest houses in Natchez. Built in 1793, the Coyle House is built in the vernacular Federal style. It is the home of Marcia and Lem Adams.

The property was acquired by the Natchez Historical Society in 1960 was used as the organization’s headquarters until the 1990s. The current owners have furnished the house in period antiques as well as reproduction furnishings made by local cabinetmakers David Pruett and Billy Simonton.

The Benoist-Stier House, 410 S. Union St., is the home of Ginny and Paul Benoist, who are at least the fifth generations of Benoists to live in the house. The original structure was built between 1883 and 1886 as a one and a half story house.

In 1900 the family hired Robert E. Bost to enlarge the house. He retained the original structure and incorporated it into a grand two-story Colonial Revival house.

The family has the original construction plans, heating plans, building invoices and receipts for landscaping.

The house has a large collection of original furnishings and portraits of family members.

“We choose houses that are not on other tours like spring and fall Pilgrimage,” Miller said. “And, with the consent of the owners, open them for tours. That gives this tour a little bit of a different flavor.”

Tickets are $15 each or $25 for a pair. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Armstrong Library or at the door of any of the houses.

Houses can be visited in any order.

The money raised helps support the projects of the Friends of the Library including genealogy research, Chocolate Milk Café for young writers during the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, an elementary poetry contest and the purchase of books, magazine binders, furniture, video equipment and other items needed a the library.

In the past, Friends of the Library has purchased rocking chairs for the children’s reading area, an online database called Heritage Quest and provided support for the summer youth reading program.

“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Miller said. “A successful tour allows us to continue our goal of supporting the library in the ways they need.”