History on the Hill 

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There will be no fluff in this year's Church Hill Holiday House Tour, a decision by co-chairs Eugenia Anderson-Ellis and Benedicte Whitworth. Only truly historic houses will represent the neighborhood at its best during the 44th annual tour, Anderson-Ellis says.

Across the region, holiday tours will be show off a glittery array of preserved neighborhoods and irreplaceable houses. There's the annual peek at the Maymont mansion, decorated with historical accuracy to the time period in which it was built. The Fan District Association's “Holiday Splendor on the Avenue” features historic addresses on Monument Avenue in seasonal attire. There are also tours and other events at Tuckahoe Plantation, the Virginia House, the Wilton House Museum and Hanover Tavern (see calendar for times and dates).

Eight houses will be featured in the Church Hill tour, all of which are from the 1800s, several of which are from the antebellum period. Many have never been open to the public before. All are “architecturally significant,” Anderson-Ellis says. Two are Federal houses, the oldest built in 1813. There are three Greek Revival structures, one Victorian, one farmhouse and one tradesman's cottage. All have undergone recent major renovations and all of them provoke curiosity. And ghost hunters?

Anderson-Ellis describes the ghost of a Revolutionary War soldier recently spotted by a little girl on the fourth floor of her home, which is on the tour. In another antebellum house, a child's shoe from the 1800s was found in a wall torn down during renovations.

The Victorian house featured on the tour showcases a particularly modern renovation with large glass windows displaying a view of the James; one of the stops had trees growing in the basement and vines on the walls before it became a beautifully renovated Greek Revival house.

Anderson-Ellis and Whitworth began driving around Church Hill in the spring, scribbling down potential addresses. Because they wanted this year's tour to follow strict historical parameters, the co-chairs checked the houses' records to ensure that they were from the 19th century before contacting the owners. 

Even after careful historical verification, it wasn't always easy to convince people to open up at least two stories of their houses to the public. But the tour, sponsored by the Church Hill Association, is one of the oldest and most revered in metro Richmond, organizers say, and proceeds go back to the neighborhood, raising money to continue neighborhood projects, support local schools and assist with tutoring programs.

The Sunday house tour wraps up a weekend of yuletide events in historic Church Hill, which include an annual candlelit walk that starts at St. John's Episcopal Church on Friday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m., and the Church Hill Ball on Saturday at 8 p.m. — Alexandra Gray

Tickets for the Church Hill Holiday House Tour are $15 advance and $20 on the day of the tour. To purchase tickets or to find out information, go to www.churchhillrichmond.com.

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