Now in its 46th year, the Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour continues to be one of Raleigh’s most popular holiday events. This year, the tour features 11 decorated homes built between 1871 and 2006. Jennifer Phelan, chairwoman and tour coordinator, talks about what it takes to pull together the weekend event, which is Dec. 9-10.
Q: For those who don’t know, what is the Candlelight Tour?
A: It’s a self-guided walking tour. The ticket has a picture of each of the houses and a map with numbers. There’s a porch host who will provide some history of the house, the owners and any interesting tidbits. Then you’re guided through the house by interior docents who’ll provide information about the interior, both architecturally and design-wise.
Q: How long have you lived in Oakwood, a 19th-century neighborhood just east of downtown?
A: Since 2003. My husband already owned a house in the neighborhood, and then we got married and I moved in with him. We both love and value living downtown – being able to walk to a wide variety of entertainment, eating and retail. It’s a very vibrant and fun place to live.
Q: How did the Candlelight Tour get started?
A: It came about when the Oakwood area was threatened for development – actually to have a major highway run right through it. It was going to be demolished, and the neighborhood said, “This is a historic gem, we need to preserve it.” The Oakwood Tour came out of that effort, trying to publicize the history and importance of the neighborhood, that it should be preserved and not bulldozed.
Q: What made you decide to help lead the event this year?
A: I wanted to become more involved because I really value being a part of Oakwood, and I wanted to contribute back to the neighborhood that I care about. It’s a great asset to Raleigh.
It’s a fantastic position because I get to work with a great bunch of people who have the positive motivation for trying to pull off the tour and welcome people to our neighborhood to show them the living history that is Oakwood, from the early 1800s all the way to current day.
Q: What’s involved in planning this event?
A: Basically it takes 12 months to put this on. There’s a planning meeting every month, including a debriefing to go over lessons learned from the previous year. We have to start early in the spring to try to communicate with the neighborhood and see who’s willing to be on the tour.
Homeowners are responsible for decorating their houses and also for getting friends and family to help be the interior docents to guide people through the homes. Part of the proceeds, very small actually, go to the homeowner to help support the decorating, but the majority of the money goes back into The Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood to continue to support restoration projects and to maintain the historic integrity of the neighborhood.
Q: What are the challenges?
A: Having 500 volunteers, it’s a very big effort; there are a lot of moving pieces. But it’s a very well-oiled, well-functioning machine because it’s such a collaborative effort with all of these people working together.
Q: You’re a research scientist at RTI. Has your skill set from your professional life helped you?
A: I’m a project manager. I’m used to assembling teams of individuals and overseeing the big picture. It’s not that unlike what I do professionally.
Q: How do people buy tickets for the tour?
A: Tickets are $25 if you buy in advance and $30 on the day. The tour runs Dec. 9 and 10, Saturday and Sunday. You can purchase your paper ticket at local retailers. You can also buy online at www.historicoakwood.org and pick up your paper copy at the Tucker House, 418 N. Person St.
The governor’s mansion is open that same weekend as well, though it’s not part of tour. We include it on our ticket so people know it’s open.
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Jennifer Phelan – Tar Heel of the Week
Born: March 13, 1972
Family: Husband and daughter
Work: Senior research ecologist at RTI