Christmas in Knoxville — well, in most cities for that matter — means holiday tours of historic buildings along with private residences, churches, etc.
We never can make them all, so each year we strive to attend at least one function, maybe two.
This year we put the Sunday, December 14th Candlelight Tour of Ramsey House on our list of must-see Christmas events and headed out to Thorngrove Pike to view the house in the cover of darkness. (Evidently, a lot of people had the same idea: great crowd!!)
Built in 1797 by Knoxville’s first builder, Thomas Hope, for Francis Alexander Ramsey, Ramsey House is notable not just for its construction of Tennessee pink marble and blue limestone but also for being the finest home in Knoxville at the time. Even with all the crowds packed into the candlelit rooms, we could tell this was a special home, one we wanted to return to see in full daylight. (For beautiful photographs of Ramsey House in the daytime, click here.)
After an amicable greeting by a period-clothed guide holding a lantern, we stood shoulder to shoulder with other guests in the hallway, admiring the banister (found in a nearby barn, no less) while waiting to tour the living room.
Although our photos in the dark couldn’t capture the furnishings in the rooms, please take our word for the quality and quantity of beautiful rugs, antique corner cupboards, chairs, side tables, oil paintings, etc.
Natural decorations — pine boughs, pomegranates, and berries in keeping with the period — graced the well-selected acquisitions in each room.
We listened as docents shared how rooms were used and then answered questions from the group. Like this one from a little boy in the upstairs room: What did the kids do for fun? (Wondered that myself as I pictured most kids today with their Kindles® and smart phones and gaming devices.) She responded, Well, many children read or worked on their assignments from tutors or took up needle arts from the adults. (The little guy was silent after that response, no doubt wondering if that would be anywhere near satisfactory today!)
When we stood in the second upstairs bedroom and the docent said that the Ramseys were quite hospitable, inviting sometimes 30 or more people to spend the night, we all had a question: Where they would sleep? Again the docent had an answer: This bed would hold four, but if you got up in the night to use the bathroom (a chamber pot), you just might lose your place! (Hmm. Better to just “hit the hay” and stay put, I guess.)
The kitchen, too, held more charms and mysteries — black soot still on the ceiling rafters, a square opening above the fireplace for air, and cooking instruments without a touch of silicone or Teflon®!
We were told by guides in the various rooms that the Ramseys were people of means; therefore, children were engaged in learning, and the property was frequently abuzz with activity and guests. Colonel Francis A. Ramsey was a founding trustee of Blount College, now known as the University of Tennessee, and B. A. Ramsey served as mayor of Knoxville and later Secretary of State for Tennessee.
On the way out, we stopped to take a touristy shadow picture since spotlights were positioned on that classy stone exterior.
And when we stopped for hot cider and cookies at the Visitor Center, we promised ourselves a return trip during daylight hours. (Why is it we tour historic houses and structures in other cities, but put off seeing the beauty in our own home town?) After all, Ramsey House bears a closer look — it’s one historic venue worth seeing again and again.
For more information:
2614 Thorngrove Pike, Knoxville, TN 37914 (865.546.0745)