Owners of historic homes open them for Christmas

December 17, 2011 10:19:00 PM

Nerissa Young -


Singers croon there's no place like home for the holidays. A person would find few homes for the holidays like the ones open to the public during Saturday's tours organized by the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation. 


"Obviously, I'm a Christmas nut," said Lee Tortorici, who owns Ole Magnolia with her husband, Pete. 


Bedrooms and the music room featured trees with different themes. One showcased Waterford crystal ornaments, while another dangled her collection of hand-carved wooden ornaments bought in West Germany before reunification. 


Opening the historic home was a natural extension of her work as a docent in Charleston, S.C., historic homes, she said. "Having a historic house is a gift and something that's entrusted to you." 


Tortorici said she and her husband moved to Columbus about 18 months ago for his job with Severstal. She had given holiday tours in Charleston and assumed Columbus offered the tours. 


Ole Magnolia was part of the autumn pilgrimage tour, but she said she still wanted to show her Christmas decorations to her neighbors. She got in touch with Nancy Carpenter at the foundation, and they quickly put together the Saturday tours. "It's just a lot of fun." 


The Italiante home was built in 1853 with Victorian touches and modern upgrades added through the years. 


Tortorici said most of what she knows about the home comes from the family that bought the house in 1900 -- the McClanahans. He was a builder and mayor of Columbus with 10 children. 


"This has always been a family home. It has such a good vibe to it." 


A second-story addition with rooms for the children included first- and second-floor Victorian bay windows, perfect places to park two of Tortorici's Christmas trees. Another addition, now a family room, came in 1979. 


Ole Magnolia came with its own ghost, a jeweler who lived and ran his office from the home. He expired on the front steps and inspired tales of the paranormal. 


From downtown Columbus, tourists could migrate into Clay County through the forested woods to Waverley Mansion, a National Historic site. 


Owner Melanie Snow met her guests on the sunny front porch of the mansion built in 1852 by Col. George Hampton Young from Georgia. 


The portico has sheltered royalty, celebrities and farmers wearing overalls, Snow said. And all are welcome to the house that took half a century and a whole family a lifetime to restore. 


"You never know who's going to be at the front door," she said. At least 30 people came through it during the holiday tour. The house is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day for tourists. 


Featuring four stories and twin winding staircases, the home has been restored to its antebellum appearance. 


Snow's family moved in 50 years ago and promptly began moving out the squirrels, opossums, bats and insects that had called the place home while it was vacant for 50 years. 


Young moved his family of wife, Lucy, and 10 children into the home after amassing 50,000 acres in his cotton plantation. "They made a couple of fortunes before they built the house," Snow said. 


Cotton from the plantation was shipped to ports in Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans bound for England. By 1913, the house was empty except for nature's critters and the young people who found their own playground among the magnolia trees. 


Snow said she continues to be amazed the house did not suffer vandalism during that half century. The people of Mississippi used the home but kept it as a public treasure, which may explain why the Snow family is eager to share it with the public. 


She said every morning they pick up the toys, hide the televisions and computers and return to the days of the Old South. 


Other homes on the tour were Amzi Love, Rosedale and Temple Heights.