Deck the Historic Halls

In lieu of a News Roundup on this slow news week, and to help all you preservation-types get into the Christmas spirit, our friend J.R. Gordon gives us a report on last week’s “Old Jackson by Candlelight Tour,” an annual event round these parts and a chance to see all our most historic landmarks all decked out in Christmas cheer. Thanks to J.R. for taking notes and pictures, and if you’ve never been, maybe this will help you decide to make it next year.

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Depression-era tree in Winter Building

This past Friday, some of the capital city’s best known public buildings – most of them historic landmarks – opened their doors for the 14th annual Old Jackson by Candlelight Tour. While the holiday decorations will remain in place for the rest of the year, the Candlelight Tour offers visitors an opportunity to tour each location at night and, in almost all locations, with the sounds of area musicians performing holiday favorites. The evening also allowed visitors to go on self-guided tours of the buildings, although staff & docents were always nearby to answer questions. Despite the chilly evening (and SNOW in the forecast!), I thought the turnout was great.

The tour is best done in a group – and I took it with a co-worker and her family. We began with a visit to the Winter Building – home of the Department of Archives and History – where the “Winter Holidays” were showcased. The portion of the exhibit in the lobby uses period toys and decorated trees to show Mississippi holiday traditions during the Antebellum, Victorian, and Depression eras. The other part of the “Winter Holidays” exhibit is the model train set up in the fictional town of Possum Ridge. The town features scale model buildings based on actual structures standing in Mississippi – mostly in the Delta if I heard the “Conductor” of the display correctly. The detail in the model town was fascinating – and watching multiple model trains running on their tracks was a lot of fun. A few years ago, one of the local stations did a segment on the trains and town of Possum Ridge – which is now on YouTube.

Possum Ridge, Miss.

Leaving the Winter Building, our group took the shuttle bus to the Manship House. For those unfamiliar with the Manship House, it was the home of Jackson’s Civil War mayor, Charles Henry Manship, and his family. When not involved in political affairs, Manship was a master of ornamental painting and his house served as a showcase for his talents. The Manship House is frequently decorated to reflect Victorian traditions at different points of the year, and Christmas means fresh pine garlands, holly, and other native greenery. Having toured the Manship in daylight twice in as many months, it was interesting to take the evening tour as well – and I think it is best toured in the daytime so you can appreciate the details not only of the decorations, but of Manship’s artistry.

The New Capitol had to be my favorite stop. I enjoyed being able to wander the building at my own pace without really ever being out of earshot of the music reverberating through the rotunda. During my wandering, I revisited some favorite architectural details (such as the glass floor featured in the photos last week) and found some new ones – such as this ceiling detail (left) in one of the stairwells.

Madison Central HS Madrigal Singers at the New Capitol

Next we went to the Governor’s Mansion. During November, the portico of the mansion was covered with scaffolding as paint and maintenance touch-ups were done to the columns in preparation of welcoming visitors to tour the holiday decorations. Last year, the Mansion began a four-year cycle of decorating to “celebrate the unique beauty of the land and spirit of the people in four distinct areas of the State of Mississippi.” This year’s region was the Piney Woods – and the five trees in the Mansion feature pine cone as well as traditional decorations.


My last stop was the Old Capitol – which is also when very light snow “flurries” began. After all the greenery at the Manship, New Capitol and Governor’s Mansion, the minimal decorations at the Old Capitol were a bit of a letdown. The music filling the Old Capitol, however, was not. The acoustics are fantastic and anyone who has a chance should take an opportunity to hear a choral group perform in the space. I think the Old Capitol minimized the decorations because of recent issues with pest control in their fabrics. Perhaps they feared that bringing live plants into the space would hinder their efforts to rid the building of bugs.

Jim Hill HS Choir at Old Capitol

Even if you missed the Candlelight Tour, all of these buildings and displays will remain open throughout December and some still have holiday events planned. The Old Capitol, for instance, has had choral groups performing around lunch time each Wednesday (the last one is December 16). You should check with the individual site for hours and event schedules.

Poinsettias are just gravy when you have interior decoration like this all year around.

J.R. Gordon



Categories: Jackson, Preservation People/Events

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