Dolley Madison Garden Club hosts Christmas Market and historic Webb-Blessing House event
by Katherine Cobb
How many places in the country can you find some distinctive holiday gifts and take in a unique historical visit? One place for sure on December 12, when the Dolley Madison Garden Club holds a festive Christmas Market in conjunction with an open house at the nearby historic Webb-Blessing House.
The market features a variety of local vendors and artisans, musical performances throughout the day by different school groups, a special gift-making workshop for kids and the Dolley Café selling local fare. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Charles Town Presbyterian Church at 220 E. Washington Street in Charles Town.
Products on sale include fiction and nonfiction books, vases and pottery, handcrafted wood-turned items, handknitted creations, hand-painted decorative pieces, vinegars, jewelry, handbags, soaps, garden-related items, greeting cards, Christmas decorations and fresh greenery.
As an additional treat, the club is featuring the nearby Webb-Blessing House, which will be artfully decorated by Dolley Madison Garden Club members and is open to visitors during the event. This historically significant home is located at 303 East North Street and currently serves as a museum. The club intends to partner with the Jefferson County Black Historic Preservation Society to restore the backyard to a mid-19th century garden, reflecting what it most likely would have been when the home was occupied.
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Webb-Blessing House was originally owned by Samuel Washington (brother of George and Charles). He deeded the lot to Ezekiel Dean in March 1797. In 1829, Dean deeded the property to Isaac and Charlotte Gray, annotated as “persons of color.” Shortly after this transfer, James Webb built a stone house on the property. This is one of the earliest stone structures built by a free black.
The Blessing family took up residence in the clapboard house at the end of the Civil War. Blessing was a baker who supplied food to John Brown during his incarceration and befriended him. Another significant aspect of this property is the well that stood in front of the house. In Charles Town’s early days, there were twelve wells strategically placed to provide water for the townspeople; the oldest was in the front of this house.
In 2003, the Jefferson County Black Historic Preservation Society purchased the Webb-Blessing House to restore it and establish a museum about this significant structure and its inhabitants. Currently there are two exhibits, one about the Blessing family and another titled, “African American Military from 1812.”
The Dolley Madison Garden Club intends to use its proceeds from the Christmas Market to help fund the restoration of the gardens. At present, the remnants in the backyard include an old smokehouse, a cistern, and a cedar and boxwood, both of which are over 100 years old. The garden restoration will include the reproduction of an outhouse, a kitchen garden, fruit trees, a clothesline and washtub, a wellhead, a patio, and flowers of the time period. Flowers will be donated and installed by garden club members — most from their own yards — and will include peonies, daylilies and phlox.
“Community events and celebrations were once a hallmark of small-town America, and we like to foster that whenever possible,” says Nancy McGlothlin, spokesperson for the garden club. “We are definitely planning a lively Christmas Market, with musical performances by local school groups, a place for kids to make something for mom and dad while they shop, and a café featuring a wonderful selection of eats by Grandma’s Diner. We’ll also have the best cupcakes in town on sale for a nice treat.”
“The club members are delighted to bring so many local vendors together for this event. Shoppers will have a large selection of merchandise to browse, providing excellent holiday gifts, and it supports our local artists and small business owners,” she adds. “And of course we are thrilled to be able to bring awareness to the Webb-Blessing House, both its historical significance and its ongoing restoration needs.” McGlothlin says there is a bittersweet component to the event this year.
Member Mary Koonce, who was passionate about the garden club and planned to sell her beautiful boxwoods at the Christmas Market, recently passed away after her battle with cancer. “We are holding the event in honor and memory of her. Mary’s knowledge of gardening and more, and her artistic ability, is a great loss.”
Christmas Market Vendors
AVANT GARDENS (vases and pottery for flower designers by Jeff Stambough)
SCOTT TATINA (handcrafted wood-turned items)
AUTHORS B.J. Appelgren Tara Bell Katherine Cobb Millie Curtis Ginny Fite (selling and signing a variety of their novels and nonfiction books)
OLGA SOKOLOVA (hand-knitted scarves and other goods)
BUTTERCUP LANE (hand-painted decorative pieces by artist Linda Wright)
LEMON GRASS SPA
TRUDY ROTH (handmade jewelry)
LADY SILPADA SILVER JEWELRY (from Jodi Westrope)
TJ’S GREETING CARDS & GIFTS
WILD ROSE SOAP