Following a collection of events both entertaining and educational this next week, the 13th annual Tennessee Williams Tribute in Columbus will culminate Sept. 14 with a tour of Victorian homes. The Tribute honors the work of Tennessee Williams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and poet born in Columbus March 26, 1911. He died in 1983 in New York City.
The home tour from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. showcases the Victorian architecture of Williams’ early childhood home as well as several others in the city.
The Tennessee Williams Home Welcome Center at 300 Main St. served as the rectory of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church when Williams was born. His grandfather, the Rev. Walter Dakin, served as rector at St. Paul’s from 1905 to 1913. Williams lived there with his grandfather and family. Moved from its original location on College Street to Main Street, the renovated home contains period furnishings and memorabilia about Williams’ life. It also houses a small book and gift shop.
For the first time, tour-goers will visit Riverview Cottage, the circa 1892 home of Alice O’Neal at 104 Fifth Ave. S.
“This charming house and its gardens have been lovingly restored,” commented Brenda Caradine, Tribute founder and chair.
O’Neal knows the heartache of losing two homes, one to Hurricane Camille in 1969, the other to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She didn’t think she would ever buy another house, but that was before she visited Columbus.
“A friend invited me to come up one Thanksgiving. There were flowers all over, and it was so peaceful; Gulfport and the coast were hell at the time,” O’Neal recalled. “The ambiance here was just absolutely amazing.”
When she eventually saw Riverview Cottage, O’Neal felt an instant connection. “You know how sometimes something feels right? I thought, my goodness, I’ve got to have it, and it’s been a wonderful house.”
The home’s builder is unknown, but records reveal it once belonged to Wallace and Joseph Kenyon, and Joseph’s wife, Hannah, timber buyers in Columbus. Being part of the cottage’s historic time line pleases O’Neal, who was flattered, she said, to be asked to be on the tour.
“I am so delighted to have people come through the house,” she remarked. “I think it will be fun — and I’m not going to do something if it’s not fun.”
Painted Lady, Moon Lake
The tour concludes with A Painted Lady, a Victorian Bed and Breakfast at 504 Fifth St. N. The circa 1890 home of Jennifer Miller and her daughter Katie Rose is furnished with Victorian period antiques throughout. Nestled beside it is the original coal house.
The home was built for T.O. Burris and his wife, Dollie. Burris owned a dry goods store downtown and later became president of the Tombigbee Cotton Mills. It eventually fell out of the family and was a boarding house before standing empty for many years and falling into disrepair. Miller purchased it in 2001 and restored A Painted Lady to the glory it knew in the Gilded Age.
One block away is Miller’s Moon Lake Bed and Breakfast, with its three Tennessee Williams-inspired suites — the “Streetcar,” “Baby Doll” and “Tin Roof” suites. Each features decor and memorabilia that channel the acclaimed plays and movies. The concept was Miller’s.
“I did it because I wanted something unique for Columbus, and especially since Columbus is Tennessee Williams’ birthplace.”
Visitors will be greeted at Moon Lake by the character of “Big Mama” from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in the form of Cherri Golden. Golden has appeared in numerous Tribute theatrical productions. Tour guides will be directed by Tribute board member Jerry Fortenberry.
How to go
Tour of Victorian Home tickets are $20, available in advance at the Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St. Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Or purchase them on the day of the tour at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center, beginning at 1 p.m.
The Tribute features a week of events Sept. 8-14. Many are free. See the schedule at muw.edu/tennesseewilliams, or call 662-328-0222 or 800-327-2686. Or email Caradine at email@example.com.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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