Historic Oakwood has always been a Raleigh neighborhood we’ve dreamed of living in, and last night further cemented that as we wandered the streets on an unusually balmy December evening enjoying the beautiful homes decorated for Christmas.
Homely, welcoming, warm, enchanting were just a few of the feelings that embraced me, reminding me once again, just why we love living in Raleigh so much.
I’ve never experienced something like this before in any other places we’ve visited. Perhaps, we have just not noticed or sought it out, but I think this is one of those unique Raleigh experiences that sprinkles in a little history with a festive spirit that lives by the city’s motto:
“Ya’ll are welcome here”.
So much, that they’ll decorate their Oakwood homes for you each year with particular ornaments and color schemes that tell stories of hope, tradition, and gratitude.
On years other than 2020, they’ll actually invite you onto their porches and inside their homes to see how they’ve beautifully decorated the inside of their historic homes.
Knowing Raleigh like I do, I’m sure some would have cocktails waiting to greet you at the door!
I can’t imagine this happening in Australia, where we open our homes up to strangers to come look inside.
Two of the strangest cultural differences that stood out to us when we first moved over to Raleigh was that many homes were not separated by fences, it was just an open passageway from one to the other, and that Americans tend to sit on their front porches, watching the world go by and waving as you passed, hoping for a little social chit chat.
Australians’ close off our properties with fences and tend to sit out the back on the privacy of our decks. Less common is to see people hanging out on their front porches.
It took us awhile to unwind those cultural fences and adapt to this welcoming, friendly style.
So much that now I can see myself adding our historic Oakwood home to the Candlelight Tour list each year, with doors wide open and welcoming cocktails in hand to show you how these Aussies adapted to decorate their homes with a little traditional flair mixed in with a surfing Santa with elves dressed in flip-flops and board-shorts.
What is the Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour?
The annual Candlelight walking tour is produced by the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood. This is its 49th year and this year is a unique outdoor-only walking version of the Annual Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour.
It’s an opportunity for you to walk through the neighborhood, view the holiday decorations of 23 properties and learn a little about the history and architectural style of the homes.
While you’ll see and learn about many of the homes in the neighborhood dating back to the 1800s, there are also several modern homes (built as recent as 2016) with their own stories to tell.
Homes range in style from Queen Anne cottages to Neoclassical Revival and Italianate residences.
In my research of the event, I discovered that this tour saved the Oakwood neighborhood. The state had planned to demolish half of the neighborhood to put a highway through the middle of it.
What a travesty that would have been. This is one of the best neighborhoods in Raleigh. Thank you to the residents for coming together to fight this and proving this neighborhood should be persevered.
When are the Candlelight tours of Oakwood running?
The tour runs December 12th – 27th and of course is best viewed at night! We recommend arriving early to enjoy the wonderful Person Street area full of restaurants and bars!
Stop in for a meal, or even a beer at the new Standard Beer + Food, which has a lot of outdoor space right next door to the neighborhood garden. We can’t believe how trendy this once run down area has become.
We grabbed a beer and cider before our walk and then picked up a few doughnuts from Krispy Kreme for our kids.
What does the Historic Oakwood Candlelight tour cost?
The walking tour of the Oakwood Christmas lights is FREE for 2020. Donations of $5 are suggested to The Society for Preservation of Historic Oakwood (SPHO), the 501c3 non-profit organization organizing the event to help cover the costs. Donations are tax deductible and can be made through the website.
In years outside of COVID, the event is held on a weekend in December and visitors get intimate tours of the inside of the Historic Oakwood residences. It’s best to buy tickets in advance as they do sell out. In previous years, tickets were $25 in advance or $30 day of from the Tucker House.
HOW TO ACCESS THE HISTORIC OAKWOOD CANDLELIGHT TOUR
The guided walking tour can be accessed via the Junket app on your smartphone. Search for tours nearby (when near Oakwood) or enter the search word “Oakwood.” It will guide you along the route and share with you a little history of each property and photos.
You can view the homes in any order, but a suggested walking route is provided on the map and from within the app. And here is a printable version.
Starting location is The Tucker House, 418 N. Person Street. Each featured house will also have a small sign in their yard indicating what stop they are on the tour.
A Few of our favorites
This home was featured in the 1983 Brainstorm movie featuring Natalie Wood. I loved learning about the Second Empire-style tower, similar to the Second Empire Restaurant on Hillsborough Street which was build by the same builder!
I loved the symbolism of this Victorian cottage’s design. Purple was chosen to evoke calm in what has been a chaotic year and to bring hope for 2021! There are several large teddy bears that symbolize security, unconditional love and happiness.
806 N. Bloodworth Street
I loved the upside down Christmas tree inside the large cape myrtle on the front lawn. Not just symbolic of this year, but also a symbol of the Holy Trinity used by a Benedictine monk in the 7th Century.
601 Leonidas Court
Tucked into a cul-de-sac opposite Oakwood Cemetery is the Phillip’s-Hallam House built in 1994 and owned by Greg Hallam and Madonna Philipp’s, a nationally acclaimed artist. We loved the “Sparkle” themed holiday decorations of this
504 N. East St
Props have to be given to the owner who climbs out onto the pitched roof each year to hang the wreath on the turret. The owner and her friends were coming outside of the house as we were gawking. They told us just how dangerous her commitment to holiday decorations was! We thanked her!
229 Elm Street
Want to kiss under the mistletoe? Head to this Neoclassical Revival style home built in 1908. It hangs over the historic oak tree over the sidewalk.
What I appreciated more was this tree is also the Cancer Caring tree. You can select a ribbon from the box to hang from the tree as a reminder to all those fighting cancer to stay strong.
516 E Jones Street
The largest and second-oldest home in Oakwood is the Thompson-Anderson-Allen-Robertson House. It’s beautifully decorated with welcoming seasonal greens, cones, fruit and red ribbons. Many charitable events and concerts are held here – yes please!
Video of the Candlelight Tour in Oakwood
Things to note:
- It’s recommended to allow 1-2 hours for the walking tour (2.3 mile route). We split ours across two evenings as the girls were getting tired and hungry and we had only viewed 11 of the houses.
- You are viewing private homes so respect their privacy and stay on the sidewalks.
- It might be a good idea to wear headphones to reduce the noise from the tour audio. As it wasn’t very busy, we didn’t need to. We only kept bumping into one another group and we were able to respectfully keep a social distance and to not be disturbed by each other’s audio.
Remember your masks and physical distancing.
- Parking: On-street parking is available throughout Oakwood but space is limited. Free parking is available on weekends in the State parking lots, north and south of the nearby Governor’s Mansion.