Based on the success in recent years of television shows such as both the domestic and international versions of “House Hunters” and countless other real estate, decorating and renovation shows that air both on HGTV and other networks, it’s no surprise that one of the most revered of all southern traditions — the spring tour of homes — is not in any danger of discontinuing anytime soon.
In some communities, this quintessentially southern event involves tour guides bedecked in period garments guiding visitors through antebellum homes. Costumes, however, are not a characteristic of this annual St. Simons Island tradition.
Visitors will, however, discover a treasure trove of decorating and landscaping ideas, have opportunities to socialize with friends and welcome newcomers, and possibly soak in a bit of Golden Isles history as well.
What those network shows have tapped into is people’s innate inquisitiveness. People are curious about what lies behind the garden gates and front doors of the residences on St. Simons Island and Sea Island, and on March 18 they’ll have an opportunity to find answers to some of their questions.
Every year on the Saturday closest to St. Patrick’s Day, the Episcopal Church Women of Christ Church, Frederica present their annual tour of homes. Now in its 64th year, the Christ Church Tour of Homes will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More than 1,000 people are expected to take the tour, which requires 400 volunteers from the church and the surrounding community to present.
Besides the seven featured homes, tour stops include St. Ignatius Church, Musgrove Retreat and Conference Center, Christ Church Cemetery and Wesley Memorial Garden.
Jane Watson, president of the Christ Church Frederica ECW, said there are a number of reasons the tour is popular, including the beauty of the flowers in bloom in mid-March and the homes themselves.
Paige Peck, publicity chair for the tour, said that the tour is special because it’s a way to give back to the community.
“We’ve donated $70,000 two years in a row that we raised from tour of homes and proceeds from the cookbook sales,” said Watson.
In the past three decades, the Christ Church ECW has contributed more than $1 million to 30 area charities as a result of its fundraising efforts.
Peck added that all the money stays local and is given to charities that benefit women and children.
“It’s a year-long process, and takes many hands and a lot of coordination,” Watson said. “We are so blessed to be able to give so much, and we do it joyfully.”
Many tour-goers are local residents, but a significant number come from outside the area, which contributes to the economy. Visitors stay in hotels and dine at area restaurants, which has a healthy impact.
Watson said that five charter buses will be making the trip, coming from as far away as Texas and Louisiana, and including the Christ Church Tour of Homes as one of the stops in tours of homes that include St. Augustine, Savannah and Charleston.
Peck agreed, adding that patrons come from near and far, and many look forward to the event to make memories and traditions.
“It’s a family affair really, one that many generations have been part of both as volunteers and visitors,” she said.