A Gimghoulish holiday house tour

The Preservation Society of Chapel Hill held its annual holiday tour of historic houses on Saturday. It was a drizzly gray day, perfect for hiding inside gorgeous, beautifully renovated historic houses decorated by artists and dolled up for the holidays.  (It was a less perfect day for walking between those houses.) This year’s tour featured houses around Battle Park, near the Forest Theater and Gimghoul Castle. (Yup, there’s a castle in Chapel Hill.  More on that later.)


The houses on the tour were on Gimghoul Road, at the bottom center of the map, and in the area just north of the Forest Theater, in the upper left corner of the map. Although anyone who knows us and the area well knows this is all in easy walking distance of our house–and in fact Sasso and I have walked every single trail on that map at least 100 times–I felt pretty lucky to score a ride from Scott to the starting point to avoid the rain, for a while at least.


The starting point: the Horace Williams House, headquarters of Preservation Chapel Hill.

To give you a sense of the type of neighborhoods we’re talking about, here is a sampling of houses on Gimghoul Road:

So, you know . . . small and inexpensive. Ha.

This is what a for-sale sign on Gimghoul Road looks like:


If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

This is how Gimghoul houses make our house look:


Just kidding. This house, also on Gimghoul Road, sold for almost $900,000 and is now under renovation by a historic restoration specialist. (DC friends–trust me when I say that’s a lot of money around these parts.)

Public tours of private homes feel invasive to me–as much as I loved getting the chance to see inside the houses, I couldn’t help imagining how uncomfortable I would feel if it were my home.  So I’m just going to share photos of some details, holidayish or otherwise, that caught my eye, rather than identifying the specific houses I saw.

Before this house tour, I disliked wallpaper.  Categorically.  But I think I could change my mind . . .

The tour also featured the Forest Theater, an outdoor, open-air theater owned by the North Carolina Botanical Garden (who also owns Battle Park) on the edge of the university’s campus.  When I saw the theater listed on the tour, I thought about skirting around it because I have seen a show there (the Paperhand Puppet Intervention–you’ve never seen puppets like this before) and forced Sasso to walk up and down the stairs a number of times on our morning walks.  But I’m glad I stopped and talked to the volunteers from the Botanical Garden; I learned a lot about the theater.  It was originally built in 1916 to mark the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and was rebuilt in the 1940s with Works Progress Administration funds.  Now, sadly, the theater is very much in need of repairs and upgrades.  It takes “open air” to an extreme–there aren’t even roofs over the lighting towers to protect equipment.

I resolved to become a regular donor to the Botanical Garden.  After all, Sasso and I have walked every single trail in Battle Park at least 100 times . . .

But back to Gimghoul.  And THE CASTLE.  Gimghoul Castle is a bit mysterious . . . deliberately, apparently.  The castle was built in the 1920s by the Order of Gimghoul, a secret society based at UNC. And that appears to be all that the Internet actually knows about it.

After a wet and chilly day ogling beautiful houses, I gratefully curled up on the couch with my personal space heater in the evening.


Photo by Scott. 🙂


4 thoughts on “A Gimghoulish holiday house tour

  1. You are in a fascinating area with a great history. The castle does have a resemblance to the 14th century French castle (Chenonceau) built over the River Cher. (yes, I looked this up.) Your shots of wall paper reminded me a bit of the Native American petroglyphs here in SW Utah and so I see why one’s sense of wall coverings could shift.

    Thank you for the treat, brought from your own backyard. Thanks Scott, for the last photo.
    C. Warren

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The holiday-decorated houses are so lovely and I have to leave a big “wow” for the gold swan’s head faucet. And Gimghoul Castle and the Order of Gimghoul – so mysterious! I loved this from the Wikipedia article you linked to: “The society centers itself around the legend of Peter Dromgoole, a student who mysteriously disappeared from campus in 1833. The founders originally called themselves the Order of Dromgoole, but later changed it to the Order of Gimghoul, “in accord with midnight and graves and weirdness,” according to archives”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha! I loved the Wikipedia page too, especially that last bit you quoted. Doesn’t everyone want to be “in accord” with “midnight and graves and weirdness”? Around the web there are all sorts of stories about what happened to Peter Dromgoole, the most popular of which seems to be that he died in a duel over a girl. The least exciting, but most likely, rumor is that he just left school and went home!


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