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Tours by Candlelight: Joint candlelight tours offered by Jacobs Hall, McDowell House take visitors back to 19th century

By JoAnn Hamm

Jacobs Hall Museum  

Here’s a wonderful opportunity to experience the spirit of the winter holidays as they were celebrated in earlier times. Danville’s two National Historic Landmark sites, Jacobs Hall and the Ephraim McDowell House, are each offering tours of these historic buildings by candlelight 5:30-8 p.m. on Friday. The joint event is sponsored by Heart of Danville as part of its monthly Love Local Friday events.

In each building, museum staffs have created settings that allow the visitor to step back into the 19th and early 20th centuries. Adult admissions to either museum will be $5, but individuals who want to visit both venues may purchase a combination ticket at either venue for $7.

A few of the many alumni and Jacobs Hall Museum staff members who devote hours to decorating, were at work on a Saturday in late November. From left: Valerie Wise, Regina Gibbs, Barbie Harris, Roger McCowan, Rhonda Smallwood and Krista Helton.

A few of the many alumni and Jacobs Hall Museum staff members who devote hours to decorating, were at work on a Saturday in late November. From left: Valerie Wise, Regina Gibbs, Barbie Harris, Roger McCowan, Rhonda Smallwood and Krista Helton.

The Ephraim McDowell House, at 125 South Second St., was built between 1790 and 1804. The McDowells maintained an elegant home where friends and relatives were always welcome and where a weary winter traveler could stop, eat and sleep before going on his way via the trails and rough roads through the new state of Kentucky. The Ephraim McDowell House, also known as McDowell House, was the home of medical doctor Ephraim McDowell. On Christmas morning 1809, Dr. McDowell performed surgery on Jane Todd Crawford for the removal of a large tumor. The surgery was performed without benefit of anesthetic or antisepsis, neither of which was known to the medical profession at the time. Mrs. Crawford’s surgery was successful. She returned to her home in Green County, Kentucky, 25 days after the operation and lived another 32 years. This was the first successful surgery of its kind in the world. The home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966. At McDowell House, furnished with early 19th century antiques, visitors will be treated to beautifully arranged natural decorations created by members of the Garden Club of Danville.

Tours and light refreshments will be offered at both museums. At Jacobs Hall, the Kentucky School for the Deaf culinary arts students will prepare refreshments. Built in 1857, visitors to the Victorian building will find 18 exhibit rooms and two staircases decked out for the holidays with decorated trees in each room, all to be enjoyed by candlelight.

 Decorated tree in the Gallaudet-Clerc parlor at Jacobs Hall.

Decorated tree in the Gallaudet-Clerc parlor at Jacobs Hall.

Jacobs Hall was the main building for the Kentucky Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, as KSD was called then. Because the students and staff lived at school from September to June, administrators and staff were determined to create a homelike experience for pupils – which included celebrating holidays with food and fun.

Last year Santa (Gary Crase) shared a hug with Beulah Hester.

Last year Santa (Gary Crase) shared a hug with Beulah Hester.

On the museum’s third floor, one can visualize the students all seated for the holiday feast. The youngest boy at each table of 10 students was assigned to bring pitchers of water for the others at his table. Anxious to not miss his share of the bowls and plates of holiday treats, the water runner dashed back with his brimming pitcher, spilling half of it on the floor between the kitchen and the table.

Of the many 19th century buildings on campus, only Jacobs Hall remains. Designed and built by Major Thomas Lewinski and John McMurtry, it was originally the superintendent’s home and girls’ dormitory. The building also housed female staff members and had sewing classrooms on the fourth floor. In 1966, the National Park Service designated Jacobs Hall as a National Historic Landmark, and in 2007, the Commonwealth of Kentucky officially authorized the KSD Alumni Association to operate Jacobs Hall as a museum. 

 Joe Buschmann and Archie Harris operate two Christmas village trains in Jacobs Hall this month. This is a glimpse of the Buschmann village.

Joe Buschmann and Archie Harris operate two Christmas village trains in Jacobs Hall this month. This is a glimpse of the Buschmann village.

Participants should plan to arrive at either museum prior to 7:30 p.m. Friday to allow time for the tour and refreshments. The venues are two blocks apart, and ample parking for visitors to both is located behind Jacobs Hall, at 303 South Second St. 

For Jacobs Hall, this is the first holiday event of the weekend. On Saturday, from 10 a.m.  to 4 p.m., and Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m.,  the museum will be open for tours. Saturday special events include visits and photos with the museum’s own signing Santa Claus from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Christmas favorites by Blue Groove Jazz will be played 1-3 p.m.  The museum gift shop features seasonal gifts and Tillie Sowders’ hand painted ornaments. The admission fee for Saturday and Sunday is $6,  and includes a tour of the cupola for guests of high school age and above.

Tickets are purchased at museum doors.