Downtown Christmas Tour to return Saturday

Dec. 1—Old houses are usually filled with a bit of mystery. That's certainly true for Joe McKelvey's Union Street home.

The McKelveys moved from Savannah to downtown Brunswick in 2019. And even though they've done some research and extensive work on their property, they're still not even certain of when it was built.

"We were told it was built in 1890, but we don't have any records. They may have burned in a fire (at a previous city hall). But when we were working on it, I was trying to replace some moulding ... and we were told that particular type of moulding was only used prior to the Civil War," he said. "So we really don't know. It could have been earlier."

One thing they do know — they love their home. They've poured a lot into it, too, as they've brought it back to its former glory. On Saturday, the couple is going to share that progress with the community.

The McKelveys' property will join seven other Old Town homes and historic locations for the Magnolia Garden Club's 10th annual Christmas Tour of Homes. The event will return after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Old Town Brunswick. There will also be a bake sale from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 900 Gloucester St., Brunswick.

Like the other homeowners, the McKelveys are looking forward to the tour's return.

"We've never been a part of the tour before, and of course, there wasn't a tour for the past two years with the pandemic," he said. "For the last one, the house definitely wasn't ready. But we're excited to show it off once we get everything finished."

Nora Sue Spencer is also excited by the tour's return. A member of the club's organizing committee, she is looking forward to showcasing the work of downtown homeowners who have restored these properties.

"We've been able to find these houses because most of us live downtown and know which ones are being renovated. We've been able to see them coming along," she said. "This year, we have some really neat and interesting homes. To me, one of the most interesting is the Judge Littles House. That was built in 1937 which is our newest house on the tour. It's a classic craftsman with beautiful woodwork and parquet floors. It also has a bit of mystery ... there's a hidden block basement under the attic stairs. But you can't see it."

Instead, a thick rope hanging from a pulley in the attic must be used to access the stairs.

"You pull on this thick rope and the attic staircase rises to reveal the basement," she said. "There are a lot of different ideas about what it could have been used for ... some have said Prohibition but that was over in 1933. It's just one idea, but it's interesting."

The tour-goers will be able to make their own assumptions while also contributing to the ongoing beautification of the downtown area. The proceeds from ticket sales go to the club's many projects. Those include adding plaques to historic homes and businesses. They've also contributed $20,000 toward updates in Queen's Square. Funds from the tour will go toward similar items.

"We've done a lot of things at Oak Grove and with the squares. We've purchased several benches. We've done some gardening support for Amity House and Safe Harbor. Really, all of the money goes right back into the historic district," Spencer said.

Tour stops:

—Stop 1, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 900 Gloucester Street: The congregation began in 1858 with the current structure opening in 1915. A previous church was located on the site and parts of it — the old wooden nave — were incorporated into the newer version. St. Mark's was built in the Gothic Revival style, featuring medieval towers, multiple pointed arches and roof gables. For the garden club tour, St. Mark's will serve as a home base. The bake sale will be held in the social hall from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Restrooms will also be open for tour participants.

—Stop 2, the Rain House at Oak Grove Cemetery: This quaint building has been a part of the cemetery for more than 123 years. A folk-style Victorian, the structure is believed to be used as a shed to house tools and later a place for families to take shelter from the rain (hence the name). Constructed in 1898, the structure was originally painted in a shade of purple, known as wisteria which means "welcome stranger" in Victorian flower lore.

—Stop 3, 1018 Carpenter Street: Many homes along Carpenter Street boast quite an extensive history. Constructed in the early 1900s, they were a part of a boom in the city surrounding the port of Brunswick. This home was built in a style similar to homes found in Savannah and New Orleans. These homes can be built with one or two stories and, since many residential city lots are narrow and deep but not very wide, this plan fit well. The style consists of a front side door with two front facing windows.

—Stop 4, 8 Halifax Square: This home is situated on the largest square in Brunswick which was named for the second Earl of Halifax, 1716-1771, who was known for promoting the American colonies. The home features distinctive box bay windows and front veranda which has been fully restored. Inside, there are a number of Eastlake design elements, which were inspired by the British architect Charles Eastlake, and proved popular during the Victorian era. The newel post at the bottom of the staircase in the hallway is one example of this. The current owners have discovered a number of surprises as they've renovated, including a claw foot tub which was partially buried in the backyard.

—Stop 5, the Downing House also known as Brunswick Manor, 825 Egmont Street: This is certainly a downtown gem. Currently a popular bed and breakfast, the home was constructed in 1886 and features dozens of architectural highlights and Queen Anne details. Today, the home is filled with holiday cheer, including a 12-foot Christmas tree adorned with 10,000 lights and 2,000 Christopher Radko ornaments. The home and its Christmas decor were featured on the TLC show "Extreme Christmas" a few years back.

—Stop 6, 713 Carpenter Street: Another Carpenter Street property is featured, this one built in 1880 by Joseph W. Roberts who moved to Glynn County from the Bahamas.

This Victorian style home sits on a residential square known as Satilla Square. Inside, the home boasts heart pine flooring and a number of original elements following an extensive renovation effort in the 1990s.

—Stop 7, 501 Union Street: This 1930s bungalow features solid wood built-ins and an expansive front porch. The property was built by prominent Brunswick judge, Cecil Little.

He was a founder of the local Optimist Club and a member of the First Methodist Church where he taught Sunday school classes.

—Stop 8, 703 Union Street: This home was originally owned by Oliver Napoleon Taylor who came to Brunswick from Novia Scotia. He opened a lumber mill and saw great success through the late 1880s and into the 1900s. The home was built in the "stick Vic" style, also known as a "city house" with half-timber accents and spindle trim. Inside, the home has original mantles, pocket doors and a solid wood staircase. The wood used to build the home is considered extinct today and can only be matched by salvage.