Tour offers glimpse of Victorian era

September 4, 2010 8:27:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


After two and a half years of "straight work," Michael Smith and his wife, Sabrea, look forward to sharing their restored 1878 Victorian home at 1301 Third Avenue North with visitors on the Tennessee Williams Tribute Tour of Victorian Homes Sunday, Sept. 12. They join Betty Miller, opening her circa 1900s cottage, and Scott and Helen Pridmore''s circa 1880 home, both on College Street, on the 2-5 p.m. tour.  


The event directed by the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau will conclude the Sept. 6-12 Tribute to Williams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer born in Columbus in March 1911. 


Michael has entered into the spirit of the Tribute on two fronts. The Mississippi University for Women assistant professor of English is also cast in "Sweet Bird of Youth," the Williams play being presented Wednesday through Saturday in MUW''s Rent Auditorium. 


"I play ''George Scudder,'' who, like everybody else, wants (male lead) ''Chance Wayne'' to get out of town," Michael said, "I''ve read plays, and I create my own stories, so it''s been interesting to see a story told from the inside out, to find out how it all works -- the different personalities and interpretations, as well as the technical aspects of how a play is produced." 




Historic homes 


Like most homeowners of period houses, the Smiths were drawn to theirs by its charm, character and unique characteristics in 2007.  


"They seem to have a life of their own," said Michael, who has renovated older homes before. "We saw the house was structurally sound, but pretty outdated. We felt like if we could be patient and understand it was going to take a while, it could end up being the kind of house we really wanted." 


Removing layers of wallpaper and kitchen linoleum, and refinishing 3,000 square feet of hardwood floors was just part of the parcel. As was a new roof, painting inside and out and re-landscaping. The Smiths have done almost all the work themselves. Most recently, Michael has spent a very hot summer turning an upstairs balcony into a picturesque focal point for the second floor. 




Victorian cottage 


While the Smiths are still getting to know their relatively new house, Betty Miller has called her circa 1900 cottage at 910 College St. home for more than 40 years. 


"The craftsmanship and workmanship, and just the quality of the materials that are in these houses impresses me," said Betty, pointing out one of the unusual features in her house -- bedroom windows reaching to the floor that can be raised up into the attic, creating a doorway to the porch. 


"I think their designs -- high ceilings, long halls to catch the breeze and transoms over the windows -- probably fit our climate as well as anything anybody could come up with." 


Miller''s home features vintage gas lights that have been converted to electricity, as well as a "picture mold" popular to the era. The original coal-burning fireplaces still retain their grates. One of her favorite items to show during the tour will be a Victorian fish tank. 




Wrap-around charm 


The Pridmore''s home at 1103 College St. returns to the tour after several years. Its wrap-around porch, turrets and soft butter color add an almost whimsical air.  


The 1880 home had undergone transformations by different owners, but, said Helen, contractor Wayne Jones restored much of its original look when he renovated it in the 1980s. 


Inside is an eclectic mix of interest points, including a working light fixture from the original Gilmer Hotel and original etched glass above the doors, as well as in the front picture window. "Which is amazing, considering a tornado came through here," Helen remarked. "With older homes, you have to stay ahead of the game with upkeep, but it''s worth it."  


All the homeowners share an appreciation for the history they are caretakers of. 


"Sometimes when we''re sitting out on the porch I like to imagine what sitting on this porch might have been like 100 years ago ... what the view might have been like then," said Michael. "Usually when I think about things like that, it helps me to slow down some myself."  


Tour tickets are $15. Purchase them in advance at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St., or at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center, 300 Main St., on Sept. 12. Access a schedule of Tribute events at

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.