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Holiday spirit warms the chill

MURFREESBORO – As dusk fell on the streets of Murfreesboro on Thursday and Friday the past came alive.

Laughter and conversation spilled out of historic buildings. Candlelit sidewalks led the way and in the distance the faint sound of horse hooves could be heard slapping the ground.

No, Murfreesboro wasn’t stuck in some strange time warp. The town was celebrating its 21st annual Candlelight Christmas Tour and Progressive Dinner. Sponsored by the Murfreesboro Historical Association, the self guided tour is made up of 13 stops, 12 of them to historic sites. The tour began at the Roberts-Vaughn House on Main Street and finished at the Hertford Academy on Broad Street. At the stops guests were treated to food, drinks, music, carriage rides and stories of the past.

Susan Alston of the Murfreesboro Historical Association said the tours were limited to only 500 people each night. She estimated attendance for Thursday night was about 450. Alston said Friday night’s tour was sold out.

“This year’s theme is ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’,” said Kay Mitchell-Thomas of the North Carolina Division of Tourism. “The theme will be carried out through all the stops.”

At the door of each building a dry-erase board featured a line or two from the poem by Clement Clarke Moore. Volunteers at the Roberts-Vaughn House dressed up as mice and served cheese and crackers, while in the Evans Tin Shop a pair of red boots was visible sticking out from the top of the fireplace.

“I think Santa got stuck,” said Pattie Evans as she passed out cookies.

Volunteers dressed up in period costume were ready to share the stories of Murfreesboro’s history.

Inside the Agriculture Exhibit Building, Shurley Vann told the story of the replica of Lafayette’s carriage, the oldest exhibit in the building. Vann said Lafayette was a French general sent to help the United States during the Revolutionary War. When the citizens of Murfreesboro heard the general would be passing through they planned a feast and a ball in his honor. Just outside of town, Lafayette’s carriage got caught in a ravine making him so late that he only had time for the dinner.

“And that’s why we have the Murfreesboro Ball every year,” said Vann.

At Chowan University’s McDowell Columns Building, students dressed in ball gowns and suits ushered tour-goers back into 1865 by performing a traditional dance.

The Brady C. Jefcoat Museum of Americana opened only part of the first floor for the tour. Located in the old Murfreesboro High School building on High Street, the museum boasts more than 13,000 items from buttons to phonographs on its three floors.

Wyatt and Libby McGhee of Franklinton said they enjoyed their first time to the Candlelight Tour. The McGhees were particularly interested in going to the John Wheeler’s house because Wyatt McGhee is a descendant of the Wheelers.

Guests took refuge from the cold night on many of the stops.

The William Rea Museum offered seafood bisque and tunes sang by The Sojourners.

Across the street at Vincent-Deale Blacksmith Shop music was provided by Janet and the Cotton Pickin’ Chicken Pluckers while Blacksmith Hugh Vincent handed out roasted peanuts.

The Murfree House Tea Room served up apricot tea and strawberry cookies. Cher Knupp, who just acquired the property at the end of October, said the house was built between 1800 and 1810 by the grandson of William Murfree.

Horse and carriage rides were offered outside of the John Wheeler House to those who wanted a tour of other historic sites not listed on the tour map. The ride also shuttled people to the Murfree Center, the second to last stop of the tour. There, a dinner of turkey, ham, green beans, stuffing and sweet potatoes was served along with a choice of water, tea or wine.

The final destination was Hertford Academy, where in 1848 Chowan University began as Chowan Female Institute. Assorted cakes and coffee were served for dessert. Christmas songs were played by the president of the university, Dr. Chris White on the piano along with Frank Harris on the clarinet.

And as the candlelight was blown out by the arctic-like air, another year for the Murfreesboro Candlelight Tour came to a close.