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The Victorian House dressed up in its Christmas Finery

Esther Leggett Published: November 30, 2006 1:10 PM
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The Victorian House Museum sits majestically on a hill overlooking Millersburg, as it has done for more than one hundred years. For the first two weeks of November, the house will be a frenzy of holiday activity.

According to Mark Boley, executive director of The Holmes County Historical Society, each room in the house will be decorated by a different local business or organization. Outdoors, the large spruce tree, dogwood trees, and white fence will be trimmed. Even the museum's basement will be adorned!

The 28-room house was built by Cleveland industrialist L.H. Brightman and completed in 1902. Brightman, his wife, and eight of their 12 children lived in the home. He was an inventor and manufacturer of mill machinery, shafts and couplings. Soon, though, his business outgrew Millersburg, and the family moved away four years later.

In 1907, a group of local citizens purchased the house to be used as a sanitarium; however, this endeavor was unsuccessful. Two years later, the house was sold to H.C. Lee, a senior partner of the Lee and Griggs Construction Company.

The house remained in the Lee family until 1971 when it was purchased by The Holmes County Historical Society. All the original furniture had been sold, and only the old, worn carpets remained.

Lena Lee Unkel, the last occupant, lived in the house until she was 83. She was unable -- physically and financially -- to keep up the house, so she lived alone in just two of its rooms for many years. Using only a coal burning stove for heat, Lena's tiny residence became dramatically covered with thick, black soot.

When the historical society obtained ownership, a colossal cleaning took place. After six washings, the dark woodwork became light again. It didn't need to be refinished, only scrubbed. Beautiful parquet floors appeared under the sooty layers, as did unique hand-painted ceilings.

Two grand eight-by-four-foot doors open from the front porch into the Reception Hall, where a grand staircase, with 78 hand-turned spindles with acorns, greets you. The white-oak staircase was made in Europe. The Brightman coat-of-arms is displayed via 22 plaster lions and 186 stenciled lions on the wallpaper.

In the Reception Hall, you will notice the beautiful lighting fixture hung from the ceiling. It is unique, as it has globes pointing upward (for use with gas) and globes pointing downward (for use with electricity). Both were needed, as the local power plant only supplied electricity a few hours each day! All lighting fixtures in the house were dually created.

The Brightman Parlor has restored hand-decorated ceilings. A quarter-sawn sycamore fireplace (with tiles from Stoke-on-Trent, England), an oak floor with walnut and cherry inlay, and plaster roses complete the room.

A turret window graces The Drawing Room, which has lovely painted walls and ceilings. In fact, the artist's name, W.K. McCalmon, can be found (if youre on a step ladder) above one of the windows. The room has sliding "sandwich" doors that are oak veneer on one side and sycamore on the other.

The lincrusta wallpaper in The Music Room was imported from France and is original.

The Kitchen is where Lena Lee Unkel lived toward the end of her life. You can see the blackened wainscoting. There are two pantries: a "wet" pantry and a "dry" pantry. The society's collection of famed Millersburg glass is housed here.

One can almost visualize elaborate meals served in The Dining Room at the Victorian House. It is a grand room. The painted burlap on the walls is original.

All the bedrooms were on the second floor, including The Master Bedroom (this was built back when only the master slept here; his wife had a separate bedroom). Several bedrooms are preserved as they were orignally used, and others are now showcases for various displays, such as medical paraphernalia, law office equipment and special exhibits of local memorabilia. During the upcoming holidays, an extensive collection of nativities owned by Doris Wanamaker will be on display here. She has more than 150 nativities from all over the world.

Human-hair artwork hangs on the walls of the third-floor hallway. If you've never seen these, they're a sight to behold (hair was saved from hair brushes and then wound around wire and artistically twisted into designs). The hall leads to The Ballroom (many grand homes of that era had their own ballroom) where many parties were held.

Seven rooms in the basement are open for touring. This is not your usual basement by any means. This one has massage rooms, a heat bath and steam bath, a gym-type room, coal room and fruit room.

The Victorian House is open for tours Tuesday through Sunday (note: there aren't many places open in Amish Country on Sunday, so this is great place to go) May through October, from 1-4 p.m. However, for its Christmas display, Holidays at the Mansion is open from November 18th until December 31st. Monday through Thursday, the hours are 1-4 p.m., and Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the hours are 1-8 p.m. Admission is $7 per person, or $5 for those 65 and older.

New to the Holidays at the Mansion this year is Lena's Gift Shoppe and Gallery in the third-floor ballroom (named after Lena Lee Unkel, of course).

"This gift shoppe is really going to be special," Mark said. "The merchants who are decorating the rooms of the museum will have much of the merchandise they used on sale in half the ballroom. So if someone sees certain ornaments they like on one of the trees, they can purchase them right here. Also, we've asked local artists -- Vickie Boley, oils; Cheryl Miller, pencil; Bonnie Doty, acrylic and pencil; and James Shrock, photography -- to display their work in the other half of the ballroom."

A tree-lighting ceremony will be held on November 18th at 7 p.m., as the grand-opening of the holiday season. The local West Holmes High School Chamber Choir will be performing traditional holiday music.

As your calendar begins to fill up with holiday events this year, be sure to save time for a trip to the Victorian House Museum in Millersburg. Not only will it put you in the holiday spirit, but you'll learn a little history lesson while you're at it.

The Victorian House Museum -- 484 Wooster Rd. (SR 83), Millersburg, OH 44654, (330) 674-0022 or toll-free 1-(888) 201-0022, http://www.victorianhouse.org; group tours by appointmnet; special rates for bus tours.

Other Local Christmas Openhouses

Ashland County Historical Society -- 414 Center St., Ashland, (419) 289-3111. Christmas Open House, Dec. 3, 3-6 pm; Manor House and grounds are decorated, music, refreshments.

J.E. Reeves Victorian Home and Carriage House Museum -- 325 E. Iron Ave., Dover, (330) 343-7040 or (800) 815-2794, http://www.doverhistory.org. Christmas walk-thru tours Nov. 11-26, and guided tours, Nov. 27-Dec. 22; all tours 1-7 pm; $6/adult, $5/Sr., $2/children 6-17. Holiday Open House, Nov. 25, 6-8 p.m., with refreshments and entertainment, no charge, but $5 for tour.

Orrville Historical Society Museum and Railroad Heritage Society -- 142 Depot St., Orrville, (330) 684-2166. Home for the Holidays, Nov. 24 and 25, call for hours.

Wayne County Historical Society -- 546 E. Bowman St., Wooster, (330) 264-8856, http://www.waynehistorical.org. American Red Cross Festival of the Trees, Nov. 17-26; Opens Fri., 17th, 6-9 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 2-8 p.m.; Mon.-Wed., 4-8 p.m.; no charge.


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