(Photo by Jill Bock, Staff)
NEW MADRID -- Old-fashioned family fun mixed with a little lesson in history will be part of New Madrid's Christmas Candlelight Tours and Open House this weekend.
"We do the candle light tours every year, but this year we have a lot more happening on Main Street," said Christina McWaters, executive director of the New Madrid Chamber of Commerce.
The Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site, New Madrid Museum and Higgerson School, will be open for free tours on Friday and Saturday. Caroling and lighting of the memorial tree on the New Madrid County Court House lawn will take place Friday evening. Musical performances by local high school students will be Saturday.
"The Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site will be completely lit with candles and will have live greenery throughout the house. It will be beautiful," McWaters said, adding she has had interested parties call from as far away as St. Louis and Kennett.
Last year about 500 people toured the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site during the two-day event, said Vicki Jackson, interpretive resource specialist for the historic site.
"There are people who make this their Christmas tradition so they come every year," Jackson said.
While many come to learn about the history of the mansion built in 1860, they also like to see the home decorated for the holidays in its original time period, Jackson said.
About 3,000 feet of fresh pine roping and three live Christmas trees -- two 6 feet tall and one 10-1/2 feet tall -- are used to decorate the mansion. About six oil lamp chandeliers and several oil lamps are scattered throughout the home.
Tour guides are dressed in period clothing and period refreshments, such as molasses cookies and hot apple cider, are served.
"It's nice to have families be able to do something together -- and free," Jackson said.
The Higgerson School, a one-room school that was moved to New Madrid several years ago, and the New Madrid Museum, which features the Civil War Room and 1811-1812 Earthquake Room, will also be available for viewing.
"We have early 1900-period furniture, clothing and toys. We also have an early 1900-period kitchen set up," said part-time museum employee Ella LaValle.
A large 30-piece hand-painted nativity scene from Italy donated by the late Rev. Amel Shibley, a New Madrid native, also sits upstairs in the New Madrid Museum.
"The figurines are four-and-a-half feet tall or taller. It's a beautiful scene," LaValle said.
A backdrop painted on a canvas sits behind the scene that takes up a space of about 10 or 12 feet, LaValle said.
"We've gotten a lot of compliments about the scene over the years. It's well worth their time to come and see it," LaValle said.
The museum also sponsors the memory tree, which was planted on the court house lawn years ago. People can donate a $1 and have a light turned on in memory of a loved one, LaValle said.
Should it rain or snow, visitors will still be able to tour the home and the museum, McWaters said. Either way, McWaters hopes the town will be busy, she said.
"It will be exciting, and I hope everyone will have a good time," McWaters said.
It will be educational, too, McWaters said.
"It's really important for everyone, especially the kids, to understand the history of New Madrid," McWaters said. "We have a lot of history, and sometimes people take it for granted. This town is rich in history."
FRIDAY & SATURDAY: Free tours will be offered from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the following historical sites in New Madrid: Hunter-Dawson mansion, New Madrid Museum and the Higgerson School. Refreshments will be served. Santa Claus will also be available for photos.
FRIDAY ONLY: The Sikeston Dickens Group will carol on Main Street from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Caroling and the lighting of the memory tree on the Court House lawn will be at 7 p.m.
SATURDAY ONLY: Performances by the New Madrid County Central High School Choir and Jazz Band will be throughout the evening on the lot next to the Higgerson School on Main Street.