2013-12-19 / Front Page

Historic Homes Open for Candlelight Tours

By Pat Blakeley

The J. Griffiths Masten House, 43 Everett St., will be shown Dec. 27, 4-7 p.m. (Photo by Jack Kelly) The J. Griffiths Masten House, 43 Everett St., will be shown Dec. 27, 4-7 p.m. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Although December has been rife with wonderful Christmas festivities, for those in the know, the best is yet to come. The Candlelight Tour of Historic Homes runs Dec. 26-28 and showcases privately-held 18th and 19th century houses, offering lucky visitors a rare glimpse into Newport’s past. Three different homes will be open each evening from 4 to 7 p.m. for just $3 per house.

This holiday, for the first time in years, the Candlelight Tour boasts six houses that have never before been on the tour. “I can’t remember when we’ve ever had so many first-time homes,” exclaims event chair Vance Gatchel. “It’s so exciting. People have just come out of the woodwork to help this year,” adding, “Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!”

The quintessential Christmas in Newport event draws locals and tourists alike to peek inside these architectural treasures, and for many the relaxing tour has become an integral part of their annual celebration.

The Victorian and colonial properties have been rebuilt, restored, or remodeled to accommodate today’s residents. To some degree, they all represent the blending of old style design and fine craftsmanship with contemporary elements inherent in today’s lifestyles. Each house is a gem and, regardless of modification, stands as an homage to Newport’s architectural history.

The Sherman-Clarke House (ca. 1750), 67 Bridge St., will be on tour for the first time in almost two decades on Thursday, Dec. 26. The beautifully restored home features high ceilings and original wide plank floorboards, and the keeping room has a walk-in fireplace and beehive oven. The property recently changed hands and new owners Tom Hockaday and Bill Martin are decorating with trees and greenery throughout. The first two floors will be on view, as will the gardens, weather permitting.

City Councilor Jeanne-Marie and Jack Napolitano will also open their sprawling Victorian home, Fairview (1864), 34 Malbone Rd., on Dec. 26. The councilor admits that showing her house so soon after Christmas does make the holiday a bit more stressful but says she loves to do it. Besides, she laughs, “How can we not support Christmas in Newport?”

Joy and Ian Scott’s thirty-year relationship with the tour will come to a close on Dec. 26, after the John Goddard House (1750), at 81 Second St., welcomes guests for one last time. The couple is selling the colonial house, which served as both home and workshop for the master cabinetmaker in the 1700s, and wanted to participate in the program as a sort of last hurrah. They have enjoyed a good run, Joy says, but adds, “This is our grand finale.”

On Friday, Dec. 27, the Jahleel Brenton Counting House (1748), 39 Washington St., will make its tour debut. The property was owned by one of the colony’s most prosperous merchants, and the counting house reflects his stature: high ceilings, wainscoting, and many intricate woodworking details. This 18th-century place of business was almost lost to demolition in the 1960s but was saved and moved to its current location by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF).

Judy Crowell is an aficionado of historic homes – she has restored four – and her latest effort will be on display Dec. 27. Two years ago, she decided to downsize and found the Faisneau House Ell (1760), 82 Bridge St., a two-room structure that was originally part of another home. She added a kitchen, bath, dining room and another bedroom, incorporating old and new elements for a stunning design, the beauty of which surprised even her. She laughs, “I don’t like new, but I love this,” adding, “I am here to stay.”

The J. Griffiths Masten House (1883) at 43 Everett St. will also be shown Dec. 27. The classic Victo- rian is a perennial favorite on the house tour, and owners Jan and Larry Girouard have welcomed over 1,000 guests through the years.

The first floor of the grand Sheffield Huntington House (ca. 1719), 43 Elm St., will be on tour Saturday, Dec. 28. The home, owned by Walter and Susanne Whitley, was the first to be restored and occupied under the Operation Clapboard program in 1966. Son George reports that Doris Duke visited the recently-completed home shortly after the family moved in and decided right then and there to establish the Newport Restoration Foundation, once she saw what could be done with the city’s longneglected colonials. The house features eight fireplaces, two chimneys, and a beehive brick oven and has the first mural ever painted by Eveline Roberge, of Newport during the Revolutionary War.

The Captain George Buckmaster House (ca. 1748), 42 Division St., will welcome guests on Dec. 28, for the first time. The NRF house is home to Dave and Ellen Wixted and the first and second floors of the elegant four-bay restoration will be open. Wixted said he feels that the house truly represents the history of Newport and they are honored to have it on tour.

Also debuting on Dec. 28 is the home at 16 John St. (1865). The property was originally an old tenement house that has recently been gutted and redone in a completely contemporary style.

Each Candlelight Tour of Historic Homes property will be marked by a Christmas in Newport flag and a uniformed member of the Newport Artillery Company standing at the ready. The cost to tour each house is $3, payable at the door. As a courtesy to the homeowners, no high heels or photographs are permitted, and children must be at least 10 years old.

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