Blankenstein house part of annual library holiday tour

Published 12:12 am Sunday, November 27, 2011

Eric Shelton | The Natchez Democrat The Doyle House, home to five generations of one family, will be open to guests at the Friends of the Library Christmas Tour of Homes on Sunday, Dec. 4. Pictured is Kathie Blankenstein, who grew up in the house.

NATCHEZ — Kathie Blankenstein wants everyone who darkens the door of 704 State St. to have the same warm feelings she does about the old house.

With a little help from childhood friends, Blankenstein hopes to recreate those memories at the 2011 Friends of the Library Christmas Tour of Homes from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4.

The Doyle House, which now belongs to Blankenstein’s daughter, Chesney, and her husband Marc Doyle, is one of four houses on tour this year.

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Part of the tour’s purpose is to expose the public to homes that aren’t so grand on the Antebellum scale, but as much a part of Natchez’s architectural lineup as any of the sprawling plantations.

“This house is full of happy memories of my growing up years, and my children’s,” Blankstein said, who is enjoying watching her twin grandchildren grow up there now — the fifth generation of the family to occupy the house, counting her grandmother, who lived with her family.

Doyle House is located at 704 State St.

“It was simple family living,” she said. “Now we are living in more complicated times.”

Blankenstien said this is the first year for the house to open for the tour. The Doyle House has gone through several restorations, aimed at preserving its original look while updating the structure.

“They want (the tour) to be a showcases of restorations,” Blankenstein said. “Chesney and Marc wanted to raise their children in Natchez, and when they found out they were having twins, they had to redo the plans for the house. The remodel is working out very well.”

Chesney said the house is almost like a member of the family, and the community too.

Old photos of the life and times of the house will be on display.

“For many of us who grew up in Natchez, and whose families go back generations, the houses are personalities in and of themselves,” Chesney said.

“They are more like family members and friends than stone cold buildings.  Maybe that’s why it hurts so much when a good house gets torn down or falls down.”

Chesney said the house was a challenge to modernize, but she is proud of the results. She said the house is a shotgun style, which left it lacking closets or bathrooms.

“And the challenge for any pre-plumbing house, is figure out how you can get your bathrooms and your closets without the house feeling choppy,” Chesney said. “I thought about this long and hard, and we were able to create a situation where we have three full baths with every bedroom, and you can walk from front of house without going through other rooms. It flows well.”

Chesney said she and Marc were able to create space without losing original design elements in the house, like mantles.

Curiosity is probably the biggest reason locals will want to see the house, Chesney said.

“This is a house people have watched the progress on,” Chesney said. “No one lived in our house for years, and Friends of the Library said people in town are curious about the house.”

Chesney said this tour, unlike Fall and Spring Pilgrimage, is mainly for local people.

“The opportunity for local people to see how (homeowners) are renovating, restoring and sharing knowledge about the process is important in historic towns,” Chesney said.

Though the house has transformed into something of a modern antiquity, Blankenstein and her childhood friends hope the public will catch the feeling of those simpler times, while enjoying the thoughtful practices of restoration employed there.

Blankenstein said guests should note a few interesting features in the house: The dining room table was rescued from a sunken ship and bought by her grandfather, Alfred Vidal Davis II. A painting of a little Sammy Davis, her grandfather’s brother, hangs in the dining room. Sammy died when he was 2, before the painting could be completed. Blankenstein said Sammy’s eyes are filled with sadness in the painting, because his mother’s eyes were used to complete the portrait.

Other houses on tour can be viewed in any order, and include the Callon House at 400 South Pearl St., home of Katherine and Lindsey Callon; the Maples House at 506 Orleans St., home of Lisa and Ken Maples and the Staniforth House at 315 North Rankin St., home of Kirk Bondurant and Bruce Zabov.

A new event this year is the refreshment center at the First Presbyterian Church, Stratton Chapel, including a photo gallery tour.

The cost is $15 per ticket or $25 for two, which includes all homes and refreshments.

Tickets may be purchased in advance at the library or at the door of any of the homes on the day of the event. Tickets are also available at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

The event raises funds for the support of the Armstrong Library activities.