Small groups of 20 to 30 people left the courthouse with a guide from the Portsmouth Business and Professional Women's Club.
Women dressed in vintage 1800's clothing carry a lantern to light the way and guide the groups as they walked to five historical churches in Boneyfiddle.
More than 100 people were estimated to have taken the tour. Ann Cardenas, president of the club, led one of the tours. She has been leading tours for about 20 years.
Each church has its own unique history with lavish stained-glass windows and sanctuaries, many of them made with hand-hewn wood and decorated with religious symbols.
Ginnie Wagner, of Lucasville, led one group donning a vintage black hat and cape. She has been leading groups on the tour for about 15 years.
The first church on the tour was the Evangelical United Church of Christ at 701 Fifth St., dedicated in 1887. Art glass windows depict the life of Christ and a rose window is one of the original stained glass windows.
All of the churches were under water during the 1937 flood. After most of the churches had to be renovated, they stand in pristine condition today.
Bigelow Church at 415 Washington St. has had several disasters with fire destroying much of the interior one year after it was built in 1867. Although the churches were flooded several times over the years, the 1937 flood was the most severe and still talked about today.
The tour has become a family tradition for Freda Maddox, of South Portsmouth. She has been going on the tour for many years with her daughter, Lori Gladman, and grandchildren, Zac and Emma Salisbury, of South Shore.
“We do the tour every year,” she said.
When the children were small they would carry them through the tour.
“We did (the tour) before they were born,” Gladman said.
Every church had something different for the tours. At Bigelow, pianist Carol Lehman, presented a Christmas medley on a grand piano.
She will be performing tonight from 6 to 7 p.m. for “Christmas at Bigelow.”
Although originally the Bigelow Methodist Church, the last Methodist service was in 1982. The name Bigelow was retained when the new congregation started and it was named for Russell Bigelow, a circuit rider and minister with the Kentucky Conference of Methodist Churches serving the Wyandotte Indians.
St. Mary of the Annunciation Catholic Church at Fifth and Market streets dates back to 1841 and the church was dedicated in 1870. In 2004, the church was restored to its original state. The huge stained-glass windows were designed by Frank Zinser in 1906.
“Somebody had painted the altar all white,” said Wagner, the tour guide. “They cleaned it all off and it was rare butternut wood underneath.”
All Saints' Episcopal Church at 610 Fourth St. was built in 1850 and it was the first public building in Portsmouth to be lighted with gas lights in 1855. One original pew, the low altar and the baptismal font remain from the original furnishings.
First Presbyterian Church at Third and Court streets was dedicated in 1851 and the walls are two-foot thick native brick. A set of twin staircases with hand-hewn banisters lead to the second-floor sanctuary with a chair lift for people who can't walk up the stairs.
“Portsmouth is a pretty town and it's got a lot of history and a lot of beautiful buildings,” Wagner said.
PHYLLIS NOAH can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 234, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.