Christmas in Corolla sparkles with old world charm

Published 10:52 am Sunday, December 26, 2021

Whalehead in historic Corolla offered eight candlelight Christmas tours this holiday season. Dates quickly sold out and visitors lined up to enjoy the seasonal splendors of the 1920s mansion elegantly decorated with greenery and lights. New this year was the first Corolla Christmas Village, where Historic Corolla Village came alive each weekend evening with lights, holiday displays sure to usher in the Christmas spirit.

The tour began on the deck of the proper front door of the 1920s mansion, which offers sweeping views of the Currituck Sound.

Whalehead was built in the 1920s by Edward Knight and his new bride, Marie Louise. Contrary to popular belief, Whalehead was never a hunt club, but rather a private residence with generous hosts who loved to entertain. Each year during hunting season, which began just before Thanksgiving and lasted until late winter or early spring, the Knights would entertain perhaps 30 to 35 guests total, usually just a few at a time.

Tour guides escorted visitors into the foyer, with its striking mahogany wood and tall ceilings, and then on to the library. A roaring fire draws you in, where it is easy to imagine the original owners reclining with guests after a cold day of hunting. A large, decorated Christmas tree glittering with tinsel stood proudly in front of a window and typical drinks and snacks were set on display.

Visitors gathered around the 1903 Steinway piano, custom built for Mrs. Knight with its six carved wooden legs in art nouveau style. The candlelight tour is one of the only times throughout the year when the piano is not only played, but visitors are encouraged to sing carols together as the Knight family surely would have done with guests.

First Flight Middle and High School choir director John Buford played the piano as everyone joined in a cheery rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” As the hour-long tour continued, Buford’s expert playing could be heard throughout the house.

Tour guides led visitors to Mr. Knight’s office with its cast iron safe (which takes 10 men to move, as the story goes) and the owner’s original drawings and logbook.

Next, the group walked along the original hardwood floors to the servants’ dining room, painted a bright turquoise and set up as it would have been during the Christmas season according to the customs of the European servants, like sweet Stollen bread made with fruit and nuts. The Knights brought 12-14 servants with them from their Middletown, Rhode Island residence, as well as employed several locals to run the house and grounds and care for the dogs.

The servants’ dining room was close to the large 1920s style kitchen, which boasts floor to ceiling square tiles in a surprising shade of pink. An original pot rack hangs above the rectangular table, where Miss Rose the cook would have prepared meals for the Knights and their guests. Mr. Knight often joined her in the kitchen, and even published a recipe in the 1939 Gun Club Cook Book entitled “Corolla” Clam Chowder. The kitchen features a refrigerator, which, according to our guides, “cost more than a Model-T.” The refrigerator was donated back to the Whalehead upon condition that it be touched – one of the few items that can be handled by visitors at the sprawling mansion.

From the kitchen, the tour cuts through the white tiled butler’s pantry and into the elegant dining room adorned with a waterlily motif. When building the Whalehead, Mrs. Knight used hand carved wall panels and décor from her previous home in Middleton. The long table is set with replacement pieces of the family’s Pirkenhammer china set. Based on one original chair, the entire set was recreated.

Upstairs, the tour continued through Mr. and Mrs. Knight’s connecting bedrooms, decorated according to their personal styles.

Mrs. Knight’s bathroom was equipped with regular as well as saltwater taps, which she believed had healing properties. Her bedroom furniture was painted bright blue. According to the guides, “She was a whipper snapper – she wore riding pants, she liked to be outside, she was outspoken. She had some oomph.”

In contrast, Mr. Knight’s room had more neutral colors. His room featured a full bathroom and impressive walk-in closet where his personal valet and butler Mr. Starkey would dress him.

On the third floor, visitors observed Mr. Starkey’s room that would have shared with his wife and child. Bright colors once again are prominent, blue tile behind a coal furnace drawing the eyes. After peeking into several guest rooms, the tour concluded on the front porch as visitors were served warm apple cider and given bags of delicious cookies (with recipes) that were popular in the 1920s.

To continue the nostalgia of the evening, guests were invited to visit the inaugural Corolla Christmas Village, which ran each evening through December 24 from 5 to 9 p.m.

Thousands of lights sparkled throughout the village and each evening featured different vendors and events, like Christmas carols performed by Corolla Schoolhouse students, a piano performance by Miles C. Daniels, story time with Santa Claus and horse and carriage rides for a small fee.

Different food trucks offered delicious meals: Dank Frank’s and Mr. Joe’s Fun Food, Fork’et Me Not, OBX Kettle Corn and Crumbl Cookies.

Merchants included Corolla Village Market, Corolla Wild Horse Fund, Island Bookstore, Currituck Beach Lighthouse Museum Shop, The Kind Cup coffee shop and Spry Creek.

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