Oakwood, the oldest home on the tour, in all its gorgeous glory./courtesy of Hampton-Newport News Historic Garden Week Tour

Celebrate the beginning of spring by joining a unique garden week tour called “Mennonite Memories,” to be held on Wednesday, April 22, in Newport News, Virginia.

Courtnay Gilmore, tour chair, said, “We are so excited to host this year’s tour where we’ll be featuring the history of the Mennonite Community for the first time during Hampton-Newport News Historic Garden Week.”

In 1897, Mennonite men D.Z. Yoder and I.D. Hertzler purchased 1,200 acres of land along the banks of the Warwick River. They had families, farmed the land and had a number of dairies. A thriving Mennonite community grew in that area and still remains to this day.

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All of the places on the tour are located within the original Mennonite tract of land. The tour includes two lovely contemporary homes tucked along the banks of the river, and two of the original historic homes still owned by Mennonites. Also on the tour are a historic Mennonite church and cemetery (circa 1900), and the gardens of Gardener’s Workshop Farm, which features a fine 1947 scale model of the original Warwick River Mennonite Colony. The six by six-foot model is complete with tiny houses and barns, green grass and trees.

The oldest home on the tour, called Oakwood, was built by J. Harvey Yoder. His granddaughter, Susan Ackerman and her husband Robbie, have lovingly restored the home. It features kitchen cabinets built from siding salvaged from her grandfather’s barn, and also showcases Robbie’s collection of vintage Mercedes-Benz cars.

Ackerman said, “Living in the home my grandparents built in 1914, I feel in touch with their life joys and satisfactions. I cherish my spiritual heritage for its connection to what is natural and local. Tending oaks, dogwoods, and lilies of the valley that have been growing for a century is a unique privilege that I am eager to share with those on this spring’s garden tour.”

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Across from the historic church lays the another quaint home, Tender Branch./courtesy of Hampton-Newport News Historic Garden Week Tour

Ackerman is a believer in sustaining the natural environment and makes sure her gardens are a refuge for wildlife of every kind, including caterpillars and butterflies which are protected and nourished.

The second original home on the tour was built by C. P. Yoder, founder of Yoder Dairy. His youngest daughter Evangeline Yoder lives in the original homestead, called Tender Branch. The home is set back off busy Warwick Boulevard, nestled beside a family pond and surrounded by peaceful gardens, grape arbor, summerhouse and a serpentine brick wall. The home also offers an interesting display of historic memorabilia from the Mennonite community. Both historic homes have original floors and walls made from pine and oak milled either on the property or in the family saw mill.


The historic Providence Mennonite Church, where tour headquarters are located./courtesy of Hampton-Newport News Historic Garden Week Tour

Tour headquarters is the historic Providence Mennonite Church, 13101 Warwick Boulevard, which sits on five-acres adjacent to Tender Branch, and features original interior hand-crafted woodwork. The tour’s popular marketplace runs from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the church grounds and includes food trucks and numerous vendors offering garden gifts and other unique items for sale.

Flowers After Hours wine and cheese reception on the church grounds is from 5-7 p.m. and requires a separate ticket.

The self-guided tour is within a five-mile radius in the Denbigh area and should take about 2-3 hours to complete. Volunteers will be at each location to offer interesting historical tidbits. Pam Henifin, tour publicity spokesperson, said, “This tour came together organically and it’s delightful. We think the Mennonite community will be the draw for this wonderful tour.”

Tickets for these Garden Week events can be purchased online at vagardenweek.org, or at the church the day of the tour. Advance tour tickets are $30. Advance reception tickets are $15

Tour hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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