Annual Green Tea to support Salvation Army, Family Services

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, November 28, 2017

By Susan Jonas

Garden Club of Danville 

Do you long for the days when Christmas didn’t begin until after Thanksgiving? When store displays, street decorations, holiday music, and the steady drumbeat of Christmas advertising didn’t start in October? How about stepping back to the early 1800s with the Garden Club of Danville at the McDowell House Museum? On Sunday, Dec. 3, from 2 to 4 p.m. the club will continue a holiday tradition that has for over half a century kicked off the true Christmas season in Danville. When you enter the wreath-bedecked front doors of the McDowell House for the club’s annual Green Tea, you will leave the commercialism of modern Christmas behind. There is no charge to attend, but donations will be accepted for the Salvation Army and Family Services Association of Boyle County.

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Garden Club members make fresh evergreen wreaths to hang on the windows and double front doors of the house. Individual gardeners pick a spot in each room of the historic house to decorate with natural greenery, flowers, fruit, and dried materials. No modern, artificial decorations are allowed. They will bring materials from home on Friday and spend a busy day making the house look as it might have when Dr. and Mrs. McDowell and their six children celebrated Christmas there. This year, for the first time, the back room under the eaves where the family’s slaves slept will be decorated along with the rest of the house.

You can also tour the Apothecary Garden, which features herbs Dr. McDowell may have used in his practice. It was designed by the Garden Club of Danville and is cared for during the growing season by the club. A club member is Landscape Chair at McDowell House and oversees maintenance of the formal walled garden, which is beautiful even in winter with its boxwood parterres and brick paths.

The McDowells were known for warmly welcoming friends and travelers alike to their elegant home. In that same tradition, the Garden Club provides the homemade cookies, cakes, tea sandwiches, and candies that will adorn the large dining table elaborately set with linens, china, silver, and candles. The “tea” is actually spiced cider served in punch cups by past presidents of the club. The Danville Dulcimers will once again play traditional Christmas music. If you’re tempted to sing along, join in.

Visitors will be able to tour the home, where rooms are furnished with early 19th century antiques and paintings. The house was built in stages between 1792 and 1804, with a small office added in 1820. In this house on Christmas morning in 1809, Dr. McDowell performed the world’s first successful abdominal surgery, removing a large tumor from Jane Todd Crawford without anesthesia or antiseptics. She recovered and lived another 32 years.

Dr. McDowell and his family lived there from 1802 until his death in 1830, when the house was sold. Eventually, the house was absorbed into the lively African-American commercial district on Second Street. Dr. McDowell’s office became a shoeshine parlor and the second floor “operating room” was used as a dump for ashes from upstairs fireplaces. Concerned about the deteriorating condition of a significant site of medical history, the Kentucky Medical Association bought the house in 1935 and had it restored. In the 1950s, the Kentucky Pharmaceutical Society restored the apothecary shop on the premises. The home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’ve never toured this Danville landmark, the Green Tea would be a perfect opportunity. If you’ve attended past teas, you already know what a treat awaits on December 3.

Decorations will remain throughout December. McDowell House is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

For information about the Garden Club, see