Tom Joyce Staff Reporter
December 2, 2013
LOWGAP — While many people have spent their Thanksgiving weekend pushing and shoving in stores, others chose a simpler pursuit Saturday afternoon at the historic Edwards-Franklin House in Surry County.
By taking one small step through the front door of the 1799 structure on Haystack Road, they took a giant leap back in time to discover what Christmas was like in the days before the Civil War.
Rather than encountering a house boasting strands of electric lights or a tree adorned with gaudy ornaments, the sights they were to behold were built around simplicity and/or use of natural elements. For example, there was the Christmas tree in a corner of the living room decorated with items that were readily available during the 1830s era, such as popcorn, feathers, pine cones and dried fruit slices.
Over the fireplace were garlands of holly and evergreen, with a “kissing ball” resembling a cluster of mistletoe but actually made from boxwood, rising above the staircase.
Visitors who took a stroll to the kitchen were greeted with treats enjoyed by those of a bygone era, such as mulled cider and various cookies and cakes — even one called “Mrs. Glasse’s Little Cakes” from a recipe of the late 1700s.
If all that were not enough, the ambiance of yesteryear was further enhanced by the period attire worn by members of the Surry County Historical Society that hosted Saturday’s antebellum Christmas event. When not working to create a holiday atmosphere for the many people stopping by the house, they led tours of the historic structure.
Meanwhile, musician Pamala Branscum, also dressed in period clothing, entertained visitors on the mountain and hammered dulcimers.
A yuletide trip back in time is a regular holiday feature at the Edwards-Franklin House; the past two years saw Victorian and Colonial Christmas celebrations there, respectively, with such events operating as informal, open-house affairs.
“I like to think we begin the Christmas season here at the Edwards-Franklin House,” said Dr. Annette Ayers, a veteran local educator who is the president of the Surry County Historical Society.
“This is our gift to the community,” Ayers added.
While such events tend to draw hardcore history buffs, Saturday’s gathering attracted a number of people who were first-time visitors to the Edwards-Franklin House.
“We had a lot of people who I haven’t seen before,” Ayers said.
That was the case with Jane Knudsen and Debbie Snow, even though each lives nearby the house that is 214 years old.
“I was amazed — I enjoyed it,” Knudsen said.
“Just the history behind the house,” Snow said in agreement. One thing that made an impression on her was the antique furniture pieces in the house used by people of long ago, including those in its upstairs bedrooms — “how they slept on the rope beds.”
During a tour with another visitor, Ayers explained that there is a drawback to using a rope bed, which has to be tightened due to the ropes loosening after a good night’s sleep. The bed is re-tightened using a wooden device resembling the hand crank employed to start old-time vehicles such as the Model T Ford.
Ayers explained that the home’s owners during the antebellum era were affluent and would have enjoyed the best of everything available in that period. “They would have traded at Old Salem,” she said of that early settlement. “They were the trend setters of the time.”
The opportunity to go back to a Christmas of an earlier time seemed to appeal to area residents, judging by those who came by the Edwards-Franklin House.
“We had the living room full” at Saturday’s peak, Ayers said. “We had a tremendous turnout today.”
Two other first-time visitors to the home Saturday were Mr. and Mrs. Jere Cunningham, who live in the restored Maude Truelove House in the Shoals community, which is more than a century old.
“We didn’t know about this house,” Jere Cunningham said, until the couple read an article about Saturday’s event in in the newspaper.
While they restored the Truelove home to live in, that’s not the case with the Surry County Historical Society. It bought the Edwards-Franklin House in 1973 and has maintained the structure as a piece of living history for the public to enjoy — including events such as the antebellum Christmas.
“I think this time needs to be preserved,” Cunningham said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.