Thursday, April 5, 2007
Pilgrimage activities just two weeks away
By SUE WATSON
The premier event of the year is just around the corner and homeowners in Holly Springs are busy trimming their yards and city workers are picking up lots of limbs, leaves and grass clippings.
The 69th annual pilgrimage, a tour of historic sites, is set for April 20-22.
The pilgrimage is sponsored by the Holly Springs Garden Club as a fund-raiser for the upkeep of Montrose, built in 1858 by Alfred Brooks as a wedding gift for his daughter Margaret.
Burton Place, built in 1840, is officially on the tour this year and has been undergoing its first restoration ever by owner David Person, who restored Crump Place several years ago.
Jorja Lynn, president of the Holly Springs Garden Club, said Burton Place has not been open for pilgrimage since she was in high school.
The pilgrimage was begun by two ladies who were restoring their own homes 69 years ago, Lynn said.
“Mrs. Oscar Johnson of Walter Place and Mrs. Jim Johnson of Montrose were restoring their historic homes at the same time of the year the pilgrimage was thought of,” said Lynn. “In 1935 all the ladies drove to Natchez for the first Natchez pilgrimage and they patterned the Holly Springs pilgrimage after Natchez.”
The first year 36 historic homes opened their doors to visitors, Lynn said.
“They literally just opened their doors,” she said. “The ladies wore their grandmothers’ dresses. They were authentic. Also the first year they had a recreation of Van Dorn’s raid with a cavalry troop. Mrs. Oscar Johnson arranged to have a Hollywood film crew come. I just couldn’t wait to open the film canister in the attic when we bought Walter Place. I opened it and the film had turned to dust from the attic heat.”
Unfortunately, many of those historic homes open for the first pilgrimage were torn down in the name of progress, Lynn continued.
The razing of historic homes was stopped in the 1960s, she said, when people realized the old homes were what made Holly Springs unique.
“So, the garden club started restoring Grey Gables. My mother and father bought the house from the garden club and my parents finished restoring Grey Gables to make it livable.
“Mrs. Johnson left Montrose to the City of Holly Springs with the stipulation that it be used by the Holly Springs Garden Club and that the club maintain it. That’s the function of the pilgrimage.”
The first year the garden club selected a queen and court was in 1964, Lynn said. The queen is always a daughter selected from among members of the garden club, she said. Elizabeth Ann Sigman, now of Germantown, was chosen the first queen. Sometimes more than one queen is selected so as not to overlook one of the beauties when more than one are of age.
She said daughters of garden club members knew at an early age they would be selected as queen.
“As an off-shoot, rather than cause hard feelings (due to more than one prospect) the club decided it could have more than one queen,” Lynn said. The club also selects a male to escort the queen.
Hostesses are also invited to serve in the historic homes.
“Back in the old days, you were invited to serve, but today ladies volunteer,” Lynn said. “They can begin serving as early as age five.”
Hostesses are expected to know the history of a room and its furnishings and to tell visitors about it. They also are mindful of the house to make sure nothing is taken. Some hostesses use the hours to count toward community service.
“Hostesses make themselves useful as well as ornamental,” Lynn said.
She said learning the scripts begins at an early age and prepares young ladies for public speaking, something they do not realize they are even doing.
Lynn said the cemetery tour has always been a favorite. She noted that lots of graves showed that a mother and child had the same dates on the marker so she made up stories that wove that information into cemetery stories when she would work the Hill Crest Cemetery tour.
The citizens of Holly Springs often have not taken the tour themselves and have not seen the homes and furnishings or heard the stories.
“I would encourage everyone in Holly Springs to take this tour,” Lynn said.
Six historic homes are on the tour this year: Montrose - 1858; The Terrace - 1842; Burton Place - 1840; Walthall Freeman Clark - 1848; Finley Place - 1856; and Hilltop - 1858.
Some of the homes have been restored numbers of times and each has a legacy of numerous owners who purchased the properties and improved them or restored them.
Besides Person, who has invested in the restoration of two homes recently, and the Overstreets who have restored Airliewood, Dr. Al Hale has done more of late to restore and furnish historic homes in Holly Springs, Lynn said.
Hale restored Grey Gables and last year gave the property to The University of Tennessee. The university has kept Grey Gables on the market.
Hale also restored White Pillars and Hilltop and is recognized in the state for restoring and furnishing the Holly Springs historic homes with antiques.
Hilltop, Grey Gables, Crump Place and White Pillars were restored first in the 1960s and have been restored again, Lynn said.
Hale said his interest in restoring homes grew partly out of being the son of a builder - E.F. Hale Lumber Company in Senatobia. He also followed his father’s sound advice.
“My father told me when I moved to Holly Springs that everything is not take and you have to give back to the community, which I learned was ever so true,” Hale said.
Hale moved to Holly Springs right out of dental school and set up practice in 1958. He practiced dentistry for 39 years in Holly Springs.
His interest in antiques developed as a young man, also.
“When I bought White Pillars, I was engaged and my daddy helped me fix up the house,” Hale said. “Instead, my fiancee and I went different ways, and I sold the house.”
Hale said his travels in Paris and England provided many opportunities to purchase antiques.
“As far as antiques, I have one of the finest quality and selection in the state,” he said. “A lot of stuff is from Europe.”
Other ways Hale has contributed to the community outside his interests in restoration include community service.
During his tenure as president of the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Kudzu Festival was started. He served as president of the Rotary Club in 1970 when the club received the award for best attendance in District 680. And Hale served as chairman of the board of trustees and as a member of the board at the hospital before it was sold to the City of Memphis. He also started a dental preceptor program to foster the development of young dentists in 1958 in the state of Florida.
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