Natchez houses open doors for annual Friends of the Library Holiday Tour of Homes

Published 1:14 am Sunday, November 26, 2017

NATCHEZ — The grouchiest of Grinches is sure to get into the holiday spirit at this year’s Friends of Library Holiday Tour of Homes.

So says, FOL President Maria Bowser who invites residents to come see four of Natchez’s finest houses decorated for the holidays.

“We guarantee to get you in the holiday mood,” Bowser said.

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From 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3, ticketholders will get a chance to visit houses that are seldom on tour.

Tickets to the event are $20, which allow people to tour the houses in any order they choose. A map to the houses will be provided. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the George Armstrong Library on Commerce Street or at the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours desk in the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

Three of the four houses on tour are within walking distance of each other on South Union Street located in the downtown residential historic district. The houses on tour are Sweet Olive, owned by Carol Bates, Clovernook, owned by Missy and Walter Brown and Ravennaside, owned by Wanda and Ricky Smith.

The fourth house on this year’s tour is Bluff Top Bed and Breakfast, located in the Clifton Heights historic district.

Overlooking the Mississippi River, the house owned by Neil Varnell, has arguably one of the most spectacular views of the Mississippi River, Bowser said.

“It is always a wonderful event, so we need everyone to come get in the spirit of Christmas,” Bowser said.

Proceeds from each ticket goes directly to the Friends of Library to help pay for projects that are not in the library’s budget, Bowser said.

In the past, money from the Library Tour of Homes has helped pay for a new security system, improvements in the genealogy section of the library, additions to the children’s library and additional services online, including access to e-books and other electronic media.

Most recently, funds raised by the Friends of Library have been used to purchase a new micro-film reader and to create the Susan Cassagne Community Room, named for a former library director.

“We transformed the old book sale room into a place where community groups can meet, with a state-of-the-art computer system that can be used for PowerPoint presentations and movies,” Bowser said. “The new digital microfilm reader now allows you to email pages to your account.”

Information about the houses on tour:

  • Ravennaside: Built in 1902 on property associated with the historic house Ravenna, Ravennaside is a significant example of the Colonial Revival Style. The house is closely associated with Roane Fleming Byrnes (1890-1970), famous for her leadership efforts in the creation and promotion of the Natchez Trace Parkway.  She was championed in her efforts by President Franklin Roosevelt. After the 2011 death of the house’s fifth owner, antiques dealer Buzz Harper, Ravennaside stood empty until 2016 when it was purchased by Ricky and Wanda Smith.  The Smiths have completed a major rehabilitation of the house and its landscape.
  • Clovernook: Clovernook was built in 1884 by Lemuel Conner, Jr. and his wife Mary, the daughter of Audley Britton of the Britton and Koontz Bank. They were active involved in politics, theater, and the First Presbyterian church. Mary Conner was active in all phases of local theater productions, from acting to set and costume design. Lemuel Conner was involved in many political campaigns, including James Vardaman, John S. Williams, and Percy Quinn (who married Lemuel’s cousin, Aylete Buckner Conner). He was instrumental in having the battleship USS Mississippi christened in Natchez to demonstrate the value of the city as a deep-water port. In 1927, he was elected city clerk, a post he held until he retired in 1941. Currently owned by Missy and Walter Brown, Clovernook is known for spring display of azaleas, planted more than 60 years ago.
  • Sweet Olive: The home of Carol Williamson Bates, Sweet Olive is located on one of the lots created by the division of the Harrison family estate in 1883. Bates, a member of the “last class” of Natchez High School in 1961, has followed many of her classmates in returning home. She has put her own decorating stamp on this Victorian home. The name of her house is derived from the fragrant sweet olive trees in the front. Her house reflects her eclectic taste and her extensive travels with her late husband, Gene, also a Natchez native. As an added bonus, Katharine Garner Warren, another 1961 classmate, will be displaying her beautiful original artwork.
  • Bluff Top Bed and Breakfast: Owner Neil Varnell welcomes guests to Bluff Top Bed and Breakfast  (1894), a restored Victorian house with a spectacular view of the Mississippi River and beautiful gardens. The house is built in the Clifton Heights area, which was almost lost when loess soil caused erosion so severe that that portions of Clifton Avenue collapsed. The area is named after Clifton, the antebellum home of the Surget family, was the only home destroyed by Union forces — reportedly because of a party invitation not received by the commander.