Historic Homes Tour returns

Historic Homes Tour returns
Participants in the self-guided tour can expect to tour a home that was the location of the Restored Government of Virginia during the Civil War. (Photo/Cathy Kilcoyne)

By Kassidy McDonald kmcdonald@alextimes.com

On Sept. 24, The Twig, which is the Junior Auxiliary of Inova Alexandria Hospital, will hold the 80th Historic Homes Tour in Old Town from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The self-guided walking tour has been around since 1941, and has helped showcase the rich history and beauty of Old Town to residents.

The Twig has showcased houses, gardens and historical artifacts and artwork within these tours. Last year, the “Garden Glimpses Tour” was held in outdoor gardens instead of inside homes to en- sure the tour was still safe despite the pandemic. The year prior the tour was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The tour will feature seven houses in Old Town, whose addresses will not be disclosed until a day or two before the event takes place, which is when the official tour book will come out. According to The Twig website, the tour “offers guests an opportunity to enjoy Virginia’s lovely autumn weather and the sites of Old Town as they walk from home to home.”

Co-chairs for The Twig’s 80th Historic Alexandria Homes Tour, Cathy Kilcoyne and Rachel Bishop, have given a sneak peek of what visitors can expect on this year’s tour.

The tour will take place in Old Town over a one-mile radius. Participants in the self-guided tour can expect to see a George II oak table previously owned by Katherine Hepburn, tour a home visited by George Washington, tour a home which was the location of the Restored Government of Virginia during the Civil War, see a 50,000 year-old mastodon tusk, view a collection of hand- crafted masks from around the world, visit a tucked-away garden with historical artifacts and see a stonecraft believed to be created by Washington Monument stonemason.

According to The Twig, the tour will also “feature a home recently featured in Southern Living magazine, a home shaded by a 75-year-old fig tree and a home with a guest room featuring an ‘Alexandria-centric,’ hand-painted mural.”

Each year, The Twig meets to discuss which historic homes should be included in the upcoming tour. Often, homeowners will agree to showcase their homes to help educate and give a close up look to people who participate in the tour.

“Many of our Twigs are Old Town residents, so they will approach neighbors and whatnot. So we meet pretty early in the spring or summer to discuss potential homeowners. We also carry over on homeowners that say ‘You know, not this year but maybe next year.’ We don’t do too many random knocking on doors … generally we have Twigs that know of homeowners that would be interested in opening their home to support this worthy cause,” Kilcoyne said.

Kilcoyne also said that homeowners who decided to showcase their homes will decide on what will be accessible in their homes – whether they section off rooms or allow access to full floors in their homes. Twig docents, or volunteers, will stand in various parts of the home and share interesting facts and historical information about the home itself, or a particular room or piece of art.

Kilcoyne added that most of the homes don’t need staging and are “absolutely gorgeous” as they are.

“These people have a passion and love for their historic homes and so there is no staging, it is their home as they live in it,” Kilcoyne explained.

The Twig also reaches out to local florists about donating their time and resources to help add an interesting element of design to each home. Local florist shops donate elaborate arrangements to help add a pop of color or just a decorative touch. Generally the arrangements are placed in the foyer, entryway or on a dining room table in each of the homes.

The floral arrangements are also usually created to reflect the homeowner and the home itself. Florists meet with homeowners prior to the tour date to discuss the design possibilities for their home’s arrangements.

Kilcoyne said she is most excited for the tours to finally look like they used to pre-pandemic.

“We decided our big celebration is the 90th anniversary of The Twig next year and we find that this 80th is just the celebration of returning back to the homes tour format … but every year is different,” Kilcoyne said.

The tour is switching to an E-ticket platform this year instead of the paper tickets used in years past. All tickets are purchased online, a concept Kilcoyne says has “made the jump into the 21st century.” Tickets are purchased online for $40 or day of tickets for $45. Participants will receive a confirmation email with a QR code and then can stop at one of three pickup locations to get the tour book, which will act as an entrance ticket into each home.

Proceeds from the Historic Homes Tour will benefit Inova Alexandria Hospital. The Twig works with the hospital to decide where they will pledge the money made from the tour. In 2020 they pledged to the COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness Fund.

Recent pledges made by The Twig have “raised funds for [Inova’s] Simulation Skills Lab, which uses realistic anatomic models and simulated rooms for staff to practice team building, procedures and surgical skills, making the patient experience safer during real-life scenarios,” according to Kilcoyne.

“It was grossly in need of updating at the Alexandria hospital and they really found it in need during COVID … where you couldn’t have too many open classrooms for training,” Kilcoyne said. “The simulation lab gave them the ability to go in and practice skills. So we’ve provided funds to update that simulation skills lab.”

Kilcoyne and Bishop are enthusiastic about the difference this year’s tour will make in fundraising for Inova.

“Rachel Bishop and I are thrilled to be co-chairing the 80th Historic Alexandria Homes Tour. We are thankful for our gracious home-owners who are opening their uniquely beautiful homes to the public,” Kilcoyne said. “Their generosity will enable The Twig to raise vital funds for our community hospital.”