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Travel for the Season: Spotlight on home tourscomment (0)

January 11, 2007

By Linda Holloway

The yellow and violet pansies perk up when drenched in the morning sun. Nearby a bounty of willowy tulips sways in the gentle breeze, waving goodbye to winter’s dreariness. Newborn babies are introduced to long strolls in the park where the melody from the songbirds becomes their new lullaby. Children are energized and adults get a fever … spring fever.

It is no secret that spring is the time for tours in Columbus, Miss. For more than 65 years, Columbus has welcomed guests from around the world to the city’s most popular tour, the Columbus Pilgrimage. The American Bus Association lists the event as one of the Top 100 Events in the Nation for 2006 and 2007. Sponsored by the Columbus Historic Foundation, the pilgrimage is held March 26–April 7 and includes three districts with hundreds of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The area also boasts two National Historic Landmarks — Waverley Mansion and Riverview.

Anytime you visit Columbus, you will want to begin your visit at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center in the first home of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams. The two-story Victorian structure houses the offices of the Columbus Historic Foundation. An impressive collection of Williams’ playbills and a photo exhibit are on display. If you call ahead, the organization’s volunteers will arrange an itinerary tailored to your interests for your group or family to explore the area.

All the homes that are open for tours in Columbus are privately owned, with one exception, said Nancy Carpenter, executive director for the Columbus Historic Foundation. This separates Columbus from other towns that sponsor pilgrimages and home tours.

"Before you tour in the morning, breakfast has been made, the newspaper read, and then another day of touring begins," Carpenter said.

While visitors may tour several of the historic homes year-round, there are more than 15 homes, gardens and churches that are open during the pilgrimage. Visitors can tour the homes at their own pace.

Many of the tour homes feature re-created activities of the 1800s, complete with period costumes. The best silver has been polished, the gardens have been manicured and a good dose of Southern hospitality is dispensed to visitors.

There may even be some history interpreters encamped on the expansive lawns of the mansions, re-enacting scenes from the past.

Among the homes on tour this year are the Rosedale, Amzi Love and Waverley mansions. Carpenter noted that Rosedale, one of the finest Italianate mansions in the South, has just undergone a two-year restoration. It houses one of the largest collections of Belter furniture in the world.

If you appreciate family heirlooms, you will want to visit Amzi Love, built circa 1848. This home has been in the same family for eight generations, and all the furnishings are original to the house.

A short drive from downtown, you will find one of the area’s most famous landmarks — Waverley Mansion. "This is one of the most photographed homes in the South," Carpenter said.

Built in 1852, Waverley is known for its octagonal rotunda with a cupola that sits on top of it like a crown.

"Waverley is, architecturally, one of the most significant houses in the United States," said Todd Childs, tour guide and curator for Waverley. "The fact that the home was abandoned for more than 50 years and then independently restored by the Snow family, who continues to live in the house, is amazing."

The warm glow of candlelight on fine mahogany antiques is a good reason to stay in Columbus until dark for the candlelight tour, which features Shadowlawn and Temple Heights. Shadowlawn, a Greek Revival mansion, has fluted columns towering over the grand portico. Temple Heights, built circa 1837, is one of the oldest homes in Columbus. The home has a museum-quality collection of decorative arts and is the setting for historic narratives about 19th-century life in Columbus.

Other Columbus attractions beckon to tourists with tales of their own in the springtime.

Visitors may tour some of the historic churches of Columbus, viewing displays and enjoying the stained glass windows.

First Baptist Church, Columbus, takes part in the yearly tour, coaxing visitors inside with a warm kaleidoscope of colored lights streaming across the pews while church historians tell of the past.

"We participate in the tours to celebrate and share the rich spiritual heritage of Columbus," said Pastor Shawn Parker.

The church, which was chartered in 1832, served as a hospital for those wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, said church member Fran Fuqua. She noted that legend has it that the church building itself served the soldiers as its carpet was taken up and cut into squares to use as blankets for the wounded soldiers.

The current structure of First, Columbus, was built in 1908 and has 10 stained glass windows on the lower level that were transferred from a previous structure.

Other churches on the tour include St. Paul Episcopal Church, which is home to one of 10 Tiffany stained glass windows in the state- — signed and dated 1896. Also on tour is the Missionary Union Baptist Church that is the oldest black church in northeast Mississippi. The church was organized in 1833 by local slaves who first met in the basement of First, Columbus. The congregation has met at its current site since 1871.

Townspeople from ages past are also on hand in historic Friendship Cemetery for a showing of "Tales from the Crypt."

Not to be confused with the television series by the same name, the award-winning project is presented by history students from the Columbus-based Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. "The students select, research and portray the characters, who comprise noted local personalities interred at Friendship Cemetery," said Carpenter.

Friendship Cemetery also is noted as the site of the first Decoration Day that eventually led to the national Memorial Day holiday.

If you visit Columbus on March 31, stop by Artisan’s Alley beside the welcome center and see living history demonstrations of artisans at work and buy some handmade goods.

There are also driving and walking tours available year-round in Columbus. Information on these can also be found at the welcome center. "Last year, Columbus welcomed guests from 47 states and 19 countries," Carpenter said.

For pilgrimage and historic tour information, contact Carpenter at 1-800-920-3533 or visit www.historic-columbus.org. For Columbus information, call 1-800-327-2686 or visit www.columbus-ms.org.


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