Home Tour returns with a Spa City twist

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Neely Seams will portray Medal of Freedom winner Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church in White Sulphur Springs

The Sunday, June 11, event of the Greenbrier Historical Society’s (GHS) Home Tour Weekend is an opportunity for GHS to showcase the village of White Sulphur Springs.

These activities follow the gala on Friday, June 9, from 5-7 p.m. at the home of Angus Peyton and the historic homes tour on Saturday, June 10, from 10-5 p.m.

White Sulphur Springs was chosen for the Sunday event in January 2016, and no one could have predicted the devastation that would strike in June. However, the city is making a remarkable recovery and Mayor Lloyd Haynes is eager to continue with this plan.

The event will consist of a tour of the historic St. Thomas Episcopal Church, a monologue by local actor Neely Seams as she portrays Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, Congressional Medal of Freedom winner and White Sulphur native, and afternoon tea served in Butler Memorial Hall located in the church complex. The first seating will be at 2 p.m. and the second seating will be at 4 p.m. Tickets are limited to 90 per seating.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church was established in 1886 on the grounds of what was then The Old White Hotel, predecessor of The Greenbrier, for Episcopalians who were staying at the resort. In the early 1930s, the resort wanted to add a wing to the hotel and needed to move the church. The present church was dedicated in 1932 and contains many of the furnishings and fixtures from the original church and those can be viewed on the tour.

Arguably, White Sulphur Springs’ most famous native child is Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson who was born in White Sulphur, lived there during part of her childhood, and even worked briefly during the summers at The Greenbrier. While she has only recently become famous through the book about her, “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly, the movie of the same name, starring Taraji P. Henson, and her Medal of Freedom award, Johnson’s story has seemed to grab everyone’s imagination. That is especially true of the people of the Greenbrier Valley.

Janice Cooley, member of the Board of the Greenbrier Historical Society, said, “Everyone seems surprised that they did not know this story. That is one of the reasons we are so pleased to be able to share this performance.”

Seams will portray Johnson using a script written and directed by Pamela Barry with the permission of the Johnson family.

Barry retired from the U.S. House of Representatives and moved to Lewisburg to begin a new career. She became a professional actor, but now has found a new passion, writing and directing her own shows. Barry wrote, directed, and produced three shows for the Greenbrier Historical Society: Historic Ghosts, Historic Tragedies and Historic Graveyard Townsfolk. She also manages an alpaca farm and rescues retired racing greyhounds.

“I am honored to be involved in the Katherine Johnson project and excited to be working with Neely Seams, a very talented actress. Mrs. Johnson is a remarkable woman and I am delighted to showcase this educational and historic drama in Mrs. Johnson’s hometown, White Sulphur Springs,” said Barry. “It is important to learn about her early years and how many people invested in her obvious talent.”

Seams is from Lewisburg. She is a theater performance major at Marshall University where she will be a sophomore next fall. She has been involved with theater her entire life and has competed in the national poetry recitation competition, Poetry Out Loud, where she had the honor of representing her state twice at the national level. Seams said, “While I am sharing this wonderful story I am also learning more about African American history, women’s history, and local history that is so often pushed aside.”

Tickets are available at the North House Museum and the Greenbrier Convention and Visitors Bureau in Lewisburg; City Hall in White Sulphur Springs; and from GHS board members. Gala tickets are $60; tour tickets are $30; and tea tickets are $20. A special value weekend package of tickets to all three events is available for $100.

While home tour tickets will be available at each house on the day of the tour, gala and tea tickets must be purchased by June 2. Call 304-645-3398 for more information.

The Greenbrier Historical Society thanks The Greenbrier resort for helping to sponsor these events and the Bluebell, Lewisburg, Savannah and Old White garden clubs for providing flower arrangements and docents.