A Christmas Stroll Through the Past
12/9, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Tickets: $5-$25 • Free for kids under 5
Available: Burgwin-Wright House,
Bellamy Mansion, The Transplanted Garden, A Proper Garden
Each house, erected during the Colonial and antebellum eras, will showcase its best of the season and provide a slice of history Wilmington was built upon. John Burgwin transformed an old jail in 1770 to build the oldest home in Southeastern NC. The Burgwin-Wright House served as Lord Cornwallis’ headquarters during his lead of the British generals in the American War of Independence before becoming the private residence of Joshua Grainger Wright until The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of NC bought it in 1937. Restored in pristine Georgian-style detail, the museum allows folks a tour of the house, its jail cell, the gardens and orchard, all the while watching demonstrators enact spinning, weaving and other activities from daily life of the 1700s.
To transform its environment fitting of the Christmas spirit, executive director of the Colonial Dames, Joy Allen, listened when Burgwin-Wright’s house manager, Jackie Margoles, suggested reinvigorating the home with holiday decor circa Colonial America. Artifacts recovered from the secret tunnel in the home will be used, too.
“Since [Bellamy and Burgwin-Wright] are so close together, I had a vision of placing luminaries down Market Street between them and to decorate Kenan Fountain with luminaries as well,” Margoles says.
Candles, luminaries and natural ornaments were often used. In fact, while researching the event, Allen was most surprised to find that Christmas trees weren’t even present then.
“The Burgwin-Wright House will be decorated according to 18th-century customs with greenery, such as pine boughs, magnolias, holly, mistletoe, smilax and fruit,” she explains.
They will serve time-honored refreshments, too, such as wassail (hot mulled cider) and offer entertainment with Colonial dancers and Christmas carolers from St. James Parish. Docents will deck themselves in period costumes and help guide and enlighten attendees.
“The Burgwin-Wright House is one of only a very few houses in Wilmington built during the 18th century that have survived to the present day,” Allen explains. “The house furnishings date to the 18th century. . . [and] the Christmas decorations make this beautiful house especially appealing.”
The Bellamy will approach the holiday celebrations on the late end of the 19th century, which then included the use of Christmas trees. Decorated in Victorian style, the antebellum mansion was constructed on the eve of the Civil War by free and enslaved black artisans for John Bellamy and his wife, Eliza, as well as their brood of children. The house was occupied by Federal troops after the fall of Fort Fisher.
As researched from the memoirs of Ellen Bellamy (daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Bellamy) and newspaper clippings from the library, Gareth Evans, executive director of the historic museum, says Bellamy will have hand-made decorations and greenery from their formal gardens adorned across the grounds. “Decorations were fairly plain compared to today’s standards,” he explains. “We’re serving hot chocolate, providing musical groups and a choir, and the docents are costumed for the season. We will also have speciality coffee, cider, baked items and candies.”
Music will be played on the harp by Susan Wilzer, and the Hanover Singers from New Hanover High School, the youth choir from St. Mark’s and members from St. James Episcopal “will sing period, familiar and not-so-familiar Christmas carols.” A free shuttle service between both the Bellamy and the Burgwin-Wright will be available courtesy of the Wilmington Trolley. All proceeds from the event will be split between each historic museum to continue with their educational programs and upkeep.
“The study of history and the preservation of these sites is vital because it allows visitors to see how their ancestors lived,” Gareth notes. “They also give a sense of place to Wilmington, and we can learn valuable lessons from our shared past that apply today.”
Gareth notes one example as the Bellamy’s green building design, which includes a belvedere that acts as A/C venting for the house. “It has a cistern which we use to recycle rainwater, and the windows are deliberately big to maximize light and heat in winter and allow for cross breezes in summer.”
Folks can learn more about both homes and their social and architectural impact. “[It] makes them exceptionally valuable for educating future generations,” Gareth continues.
The Burgwin-Wright House is located at 224 Market Street, and the Bellamy Mansion Museum is located at 503 Market Street.