Built in 1836 and enlarged from 1856 to 1859, Henderson Hall is a genuine treasure trove of history going all the way back past the Civil War. And walking through the hallways and rooms, I got the feeling that, even if for a brief moment, the history was coming to life before my eyes. Standing in the belvedere high atop the house, looking around at the carriage house and old barn foundation in one direction and the huge field stretching down to the Ohio River in the other, I half expected to see a battle raging between Union and Confederate forces, or a horse-drawn carriage pull up to drop off some members of the Henderson clan, just coming back from a trip to Marietta or a visit with their old friend, George Washington.
A visit to historic Henderson Hall on Old River Road in Williamstown is worthwhile any time of the year, but even more so at Christmas, because every room is decked out beautifully in just the way it would have been at different points in the history of the house. Beyond the stunning grandeur of the structure and fascinating history that can be enjoyed year-round, the quiet beauty of the Yuletide decorations is just perfect for creating that old-fashioned holiday spirit that seems to be so lacking in today’s frenetic, commercially-driven milieu.
Tours are available Tuesday through Sunday from Noon to 5 p.m. for only $10 for adults and $5 for students. Speaking as someone who spent a great deal more money to tour a plantation in New Orleans, this tour is worth every penny. The house is well-maintained, the displays thorough and meticulously staged, and the docents deeply knowledgeable. It is something everyone from this area needs to do and I highly recommend you bring your out-of-town family and friends as well.
But if you really want to immerse yourself in Christmas the way it would have been back when Henderson Hall was in its heyday, take advantage of Christmas Evening at the Plantation, which will take place on the next two consecutive Saturdays in December, the 10th and 17th. Each night will include tours with the house in its full Christmas splendor. Mindy, the docent that showed me around, said that the inside becomes a truly magical place after dark during the holiday season. When guests enter, they’ll be greeted as if they are special guests at a real Christmas party thrown by the Hendersons and they’ll be served hors d’ouvres and wassail (I tried some and it is delectable.). Each room will have a docent who will tell stories of the family members who lived in the house throughout the decades that the Hendersons owned the property as well as answer questions. Finally, musical entertainment will be provided by different musicians each night. On December 3rd, pianist Kim Vineyard will play. The flute and cello duo of Melissa and Bob Herceg will perform on the 10th. Finally, on the 17th, guests will be treated to pianist Rick Poling. The whole evening lasts from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Tickets are $35 and are limited to the first forty people each night, so advanced registration is urged. All proceeds will, according to the Henderson Landing News, the official newsletter of Henderson Hall, “go to help provide continued improvements to this historic site.” To buy tickets, call Bev Reger at 304-485-0819 or call Henderson Hall directly at 304-375-2129.