The annual Vann House Days at the Chief Vann House in Spring Place, typically held in July, has been canceled, a victim of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to Interpretive Ranger Irina Garner, and the December candlelight tours of the home are in question.
Vann House Days, first held in 1978, showcases the house and offers numerous exhibits that show what life was like for the Cherokee before the federal government forcibly removed them to what is now Oklahoma.
"There is absolutely no way to observe proper social distancing," Garner said. "There's no way to hold an interactive, interpretive experience while practicing social distancing. Some of the stations include, for instance, butter churning, and you get to taste samples of hand-churned butter, or blow guns, where you get to use a blow gun. Even if we just opened up the house to tours, the house can be filled with up to 40 people at once, and that's a very tight space."
"Vann House Days can't happen without volunteers, typically around 40 or so," said Garner. "It's a massive undertaking, the same with our candlelight tours. Many of them are senior citizens. It's a good time to give them a break, so they are not endangering themselves or their families."
The Chief Vann House was built in 1804 by James Vann, the son of a Cherokee woman and a Scottish trader. Starting with his mother's land and his father's business, James Vann built a fortune, and by time of his death in 1809 he was reportedly the wealthiest man and owned the largest plantation in the Cherokee Nation. His son, Joseph "Rich Joe" Vann, inherited and expanded the businesses. Joseph oversaw more than 800 acres of farmland, numerous taverns and a ferry at the time of the Cherokee removal in 1838. The Chief Vann House is now a state historic site.
Jame Vann opened up his home to Moravian missionaries for a candlelight Love Feast and sermon at Christmastime. The Chief Vann House usually offers candlelight tours each December in honor of that.
Garner said no decision has been made on whether to offer the tours this year.
"We might have to cancel that," she said. "There's two things going on. Obviously, social distancing will still be a concern, and viruses like this have a bad habit of flaring back up in the wintertime when people step back inside. And our two-story cabin is being renovated this fall, and those renovations could interfere with the tour. Typically, we host apple cider and cookies in the cabin. So we don't know if it will be open."