In what’s hoped will be the start of a great area Christmas tradition, one of the coast’s most magnificent remaining plantations is holding a family–friendly “Festival of Lights and Music,” featuring hayrides, musical concerts, house tours, kid’s activities, trees festooned with lights, and more.
Dunham Farms, on the site of the historic Springfield Plantation in Liberty County about a 40–minute drive from Savannah, holds the Festival this Saturday and on Sat. Dec. 11, from 3:30–9:30 p.m. both days.
Springfield is the oldest of Georgia’s royal land grants to remain in the original family — yes, even longer than Wormsloe. Laura and Meredith Devendorf are the heirs to that Stevens family land grant from the 1750s (they’re descendants of Thomas Jefferson as well).
The mother and daughter team were inspired to start the event by a trip to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, a historic arboretum which holds a similar family–friendly Christmas extravaganza that attracts thousands of visitors each year.
“We came back with a huge feeling of the Christmas spirit,” says Laura. “It made us want to do something down here that everyone would enjoy, something that would bring beauty, joy, laughter, and fun— the sound of music and the beauty of lights.”
All money raised goes to support the nearby Seabrook Foundation, which restores a historic African American school–turned–house museum.
“It’s a double payoff,” Laura says. “We have so little these days that’s thrilling in a positive way — this seemed a perfect answer.”
The focal point of the event is the installation of thousands of lights on the old tree stands. “Watching the guys who work for us, once they got started and understood it, they are so into it,” Laura says. “Now they drive in at night just to see the lights.”
But music will be in abundance as well, from Savannah’s Ben Tucker (performing in the historic poolhouse) and from master lute player Chris Kohut, who performs in the family home as part of the ticketed house tour.
Kids and train buffs will enjoy the model railroad exhibit set up in the restored “retreat” building, and Santa himself will pay a visit to light the 14–foot Christmas tree — in a decorated golf cart.
In addition to free guided tours of the plantation’s guest cottage and the barn–turned–inn, history buffs might want to pay the extra $15 to take one of the private, 15–person house tours. In addition to a short concert by lutist Kohut, you will “learn about the interesting people who’ve lived here and some of the fascinating things they’ve accomplished,” as Laura says.
In one portrait, you’ll see a young Agnes Dillon Randolph, a relative who began public nursing in America.
“Her mother died when fairly young of tuberculosis,” explains Meredith Devendorf. “Her daughter dedicated her life to tuberculosis research and went on to become the head of nursing education at the University of Virginia when she was only 18 years old.”
Ironically dying of TB herself, Randolph also established the first sanitorium for African Americans in the South. At the turn of the 20th Century, she raised a then–huge $50,000 to endow a nursing chair at the UVA med school — but the chair was never created.
“We’ve had a chip on our shoulder about it ever since,” Laura laughs.
Other interesting relatives whose stories will be told include Martha Jefferson Randolph, one of the first 12 Girl Scouts in America, and John Porter Stevens, the Savannah alderman who led the push to construct Savannah’s first airport at what’s now Hunter Army Airfield.
Holiday Festival of Lights & Music
Where: Dunham Farms, Midway (take Exit 76 off I–95 south, turn left eastward on Highway 38/Islands Highway, proceed six miles until you see the marked entrance to Springfield Plantation)
When: Dec. 4 and Dec. 11, 3:30–9:30 p.m.
Cost: $10 per person general admission, seniors & students $8, kids 5–17 $6, under five free. House tour and lute concert are $15; hayrides $2.
Info and registration for house tours: www.dunhamfarms.com