On Saturday, December 7, Urbanna will once more be the destination of an ever-growing number of people who make the Urbanna Christmas House Tour an annual tradition. The tour will be from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
It’s all about Christmas Urbanna style—twinkling lights, carols, decorated storefronts, shops dressed in their festive best and local restaurants primed and ready for the occasion, especially right now when Rappahannock River oysters are at their mouth-watering best.
Tour-goers should look for special open houses at several of the boutiques and galleries and a wine tasting at Taste of Urbanna on Virginia Street in the heart of the village.
This year the list of homes and buildings on the tour includes historic “Lansdowne,” the “Barnes House,” the “Williamson House,” “Fort Nonsense,” the “James Ross River Plantation,” the “Middlesex Woman’s Club,” the “James Mills Scottish Factor Store,” and Urbanna United Methodist Church.
The home of Tom and Janet Brown Williamson is located on the Rappahannock River on the site of West Urbanna Wharf, where steamboats docked in the early 1900’s. The site was at one time home to Lord Mott Canning Co. The cannery closed in the 1970’s and the building was eventually burned. Mr. Williamson purchased the land and his architect, George Kennedy, designed a house that has the look of a Chesapeake spider-legged lighthouse. The structure is three stories high and there is no other place with a view like this.
Walesa Point is the most recent home on the property amassed in 1803 by James Ross. The James Ross Plantation, also known as Cedar Park Farm, was recently owned by Betty Sams Christian. Upon entry to this lovely home your eyes are drawn to the rich dark paneled walls and heart pine floors which carry you into the spacious yet cozy den. Take note of the magnificent stone fireplace and the cathedral ceiling above with exposed rustic beams. From the foyer, you continue into the large dining room where the generous bay window provides a view of Robinson’s Creek. The light and breezy butler’s pantry and kitchen overlook a small porch with a view of the boathouse and morning fishermen. The slate porch that wraps two sides of the house boasts sunrise views while you look out over the diamond sparkles of Robinson’s Creek. Enjoy the perennials from Mrs. Christian’s cutting garden, of if you fancy, peek into the gunroom with warm paneled cases and storage for every hunter’s needs. And if all this isn’t enough to draw you to the fresh breezes of the plantation, explore the extravagance of the indoor pool with exposed beams, skylights, and waterfront views.
A Civil War incident prompted the name of Fort Nonsense. The late Dr. Alfred C. Palmer, was born in Urbanna, Virginia, in 1856 and he tells the story as recreated from the local writer, Louise Gray. At the time of the Civil War, Dr. Palmer lived in the village of Urbanna. On several occasions the Federal gunboats came up the Rappahannock River and shelled the town, causing little damage. Several local folks conceived the idea of putting up a camouflaged breastworks on the bluff on the west side of the creek’s entrance. They took wagon wheels and placed them in position, and mounted tree trunks in between pointing out to the creek to the east. When the gunboats came up the river and saw the sight of these massive fortifications, they turned around and high-tailed down the river with never a shot being fired. Many men were already in the Confederate Army and ammunitions were scarce. During the war, there was much naval activity in the Chesapeake Bay and many took place in the rivers flowing into the bay, though no battles were fought there. Several federal gunboats and commercial schooners were captured in the Rappahannock River in 1863. Union and Confederate were taken to Rosegill where they were treated. Such exploits rallied the Urbanna community to erect the fortifications at Fort Nonsense. The ingenuity of the town folks stopped the enemy boats from coming into the harbor. Hence the spot has been known as Fort Nonsense. On a bluff overlooking the mouth of Urbanna Creek, Fort Nonsense was once a fort with fake cannons protecting the port. In 1910 W.W. Marston built his family’s house then sold it to Dr. C. Wellington Taber, who maintained a public beach there.
Built in 1944 by Harold Barnes for his family, this wonderful creek-side home has been a mainstay of Urbanna’s rich history for many years. Charming to see from either the street or the creek, this distinctive two-story house will transport imaginations back to the more simple and less complicated times associated with the community during those days. Five bedrooms and 5 fireplaces, a formal dining room and a kitchen designed for many hands are just part of the magic of this lovely home. Outside a garage that once held a complete stable below and living quarters above remains pretty much the same, only modernized to accommodate automobiles. In the early days before a whole lot of cars occupied Urbanna’s street scape, the Barnes horses had free range within the fenced property, grazing at their leisure to the delight of the family who were all horse lovers. Visitors are certain to enjoy seeing the antiques and fixtures that have remained in place for over 65 years along with lots of detailed information about the house accumulated over many years.
Diane and A.B. Gravatt are restoring the 18th century National Historic Register mansion that was once home to Arthur Lee. It has been a labor of love for Diane and A.B. Gravatt for over a decade. The Gravatts have buttressed the sagging structure, painstakingly returned centuries-old mantels to their original splendor, unearthed and preserved artifacts, installed heat and air conditioning, consulted with historic preservation experts - the list goes on and on. With the last of the original windows left to restore, they are, as Diane says, “finally getting to the fun part,” the “cosmetics” like paint and decorating. Paintings by English artist Michael Jobn Hunt provide a glimpse of what is to come. Hunt travels the world in search of distinctive interior settings to interpret. His works feature soft light emanating from a window or door that infuses interior scenes with quiet drama and power. In the Urbanna area to paint another home, Hunt came to Lansdowne and also did a series of paintings there. When you look at the prints of them that hang in the entrance hall at Lansdowne, you realize you are viewing a painting of the very setting in which you stand. And it is at that moment that you understand why Diane fell in love with Lansdowne at first sight. Why she vowed that Lansdowne would be hers someday. Why she pursued the owners for nearly two decades. Why she waited out the two years it finally took to close the deal. And why she and A.B. have had the patience and persistence to do the dirty work before the fun stuff.
The “Pearl,” Urbanna’s community trolley, will shuttle visitors from Urbanna United Methodist Church to each tour destination and back. There will be ample parking at the church and on the streets.
Tickets are on sale for $20 per person and can be purchased in advance at the following locations: In Urbanna, Lowe Tide, Cyndy’s Bynn and Make Thyme; in Locust Hill, River Birch Gifts; in Hartfield, Wilton Cottage; in Kilmarnock, Papeterie and The Wild Bunch; in Richmond, Janet Brown at Murphies in Carytown; and in Midlothian, Pigtails and Crewcuts.
Tickets may also be purchased the day of the tour at Urbanna United Methodist Church.
For more details and information, check out the tour’s Facebook page and the Urbanna website, or call 758-1606.