ONE OF Savannah’s premier house museums—and the original inspiration for Savannah’s downtown preservation movement—the Davenport House usually offers fun living history holiday-themed tours by candlelight.
And they usually try to have a different twist every year.
“Oh, we always have twists!,” says executive director Jamie Credle. “This year we’ve done some more research on the lifestyles of the 1820s, and found more information about the animals they owned and how they might have incorporated their pets into daily life. We always research a topic and make sure there’s plenty of interesting info infused into the stories we tell.”
Along with furry friends, the theme this year is an 1820s New Year’s Eve celebration.
“Each of the rooms is decorated with regard to what a New Year’s celebration would be like,” Credle says. “We’re using the old recipe for calf’s foot jelly—yes, that’s exactly what jello is! We’ll get the cake out—it would be fruitcake back then, because it kept so much longer.”
The Davenport House will hold the tours from 6 p.m. to about 9, but “it’s not a two and a half hour show,” Credle explains. “It’ll take 50 minutes start to finish, ending with shortbread and cider. You can come anytime between 6 and 8—we’re not starting tours after 8 p.m.”
As part of the New Year’s theme, there will be a singalong with “Auld Lang Syne.”
“Our staff and the guests will sing Auld Lang Syne as you might back then, celebrating with people you don’t necessarily know and thinking about surviving another year.”
Upstairs at the bedroom level will be an ongoing living history vignette, in authentic period costume.
“Two girls and their uncle will be wrapping gifts, while one of them reads from the back of a newspaper a story about a visit from St. Nicholas,” Credle says. “You’ll see what it was like when the family first read ‘The Night before Christmas’ together.”
A very special treat comes in the form of another “twist.”
“Over the past several years we’ve created some period dance groups,” Credle says. “Nobody here is Baryshnikov or anything, but we’ll be demonstrating early 19th century dancing styles like the quadrille and the waltz.”
If guests want, they can join in.
“This will spotlight an era that’s little known in America but very vibrant and very key to the development of our city,” Credle says. “This celebration is set in the era when Davenport built the house. Enslaved people also played a very important role in the house. We talk about all of those things.”
For those who don’t know, the Davenport House—named for its builder and original owner, Isaiah Davenport—was what inspired Savannah’s original preservation movement in the 1950s.
“It’s very enriching for people to understand that while we’re not the first house museum in Savannah, the Davenport House is the beacon of the preservation movement here. That grassroots movement is the reason we now have a two billion dollar tourism industry,” Credle says.
“Davenport built the house with his own hands, in one of the most popular styles of the city at the time,” she says.
An example of early 19th century port city life, the Davenport is also one of the earliest houses still standing in Savannah due to the many fires which swept the city in the 1700s, destroying most of the Oglethorpe-era buildings.
But this holiday season, Credle says the “experiential component” is what matters most.
“This is a real family thing. It’s light but very authentic. We think people will get something very special out of it, seeing Savannah at night. And Broughton Street being so beautiful this time of year.”