A historical 19th century farmhouse becomes a Victorian holiday showcase.
It was 2001 when Brenda Monroe first laid eyes on the late-19th century home atop Virginia Avenue in Bridgeport. “I knew it was the house for me,” says Brenda, who was living in Shinnston with family at the time. “It had that great big front porch, and it looked so warm and inviting.”
The house wasn’t even on the market, but she still called her husband, CJ, who was working in Virginia and visiting on weekends. She told him all about the beautiful Victorian-style house, which, in reality, was a former farmhouse, built circa 1872.
Before long, the Monroes became owners of the home and delved into learning about the home’s history. Neighbors told them that the home had originally belonged to John Lodge. They read in historical accounts that Lodge worked in the timber and oil industries and was influential in creating the community of Lodgeville.
The house needed a lot of work. “And we knew, with our income, we were going to have to do all of it ourselves,” says Brenda, adding that her former work with Home Depot came in handy.
For the past 14 years, the couple has worked to restore the home’s interior. “We didn’t want to do anything that would ruin the integrity of the house,” Brenda says. Still intact were the original walnut and oak trim and the staircase built from wood timbered on the property’s one-time 84 acres.
To replicate the original poplar floors, the couple chose white pine plank flooring, which they stained, stenciled, and varnished. After stripping away eight layers of wallpaper, they discovered walls of horsehair plaster. Some received fresh wallpaper; others a fresh coat of paint. In choosing colors, Brenda and CJ stuck with those on the historical color list. The kitchen and bathrooms were completely gutted and remodeled. Gas lines were installed so they could fire up two of the home’s original fireplaces. The old windows were replaced with more energy-efficient ones, but still with a look that reflected the 19th century.
As the house shaped up, it drew attention. Among those stopping by were two of the home’s former owners, who not only filled in some missing pieces of the property’s history but also offered some original furnishings —a painting and pair of chairs, included. One of those former owners, Helen Jones, suggested the house be included in the September 2014 tour of historic homes to raise money for the North Central West Virginia Coalition for the Homeless. Many who participated in that tour shared a common request. “A lot of people said they would love to see the house at Christmastime,” Brenda says. So the Monroes dressed their home in Victorian-style holiday décor and opened their doors to the public. Again, it was a labor of love. Stores—from mall retailers to antique boutiques—were searched for just the right accents to fill every nook and cranny.
Brenda says it was fun to come up with themes for each room and for each of the 18 Christmas trees throughout the house. One of her past favorite room themes is the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. That bedroom is embellished with white trees decorated in whimsical past, present, and future designs. On the “Christmas past” tree are vintage handmade ornaments. The “Christmas present” tree is elegant, adorned in white and gold. Representing future dreams, a “Christmas yet to be” tree is dressed in baby clothes and topped with a wedding veil.
Furnished with a Victorian cameo-back sofa, wing chairs, and 19th century pump organ, the living room has become the presidential room, adorned with Americana décor and flags. The Christmas tree features U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, who led our country when the Monroe House was built.
The attic features a children’s theme. Greeting visitors are dollhouses and ribbon-wrapped books. Raggedy Ann dolls and ornaments hang upon the Christmas tree.
The entire home overflows with Victorian-style holiday cheer. Attention is given to every little detail. “We even switched out our blue and white dishes for red and white ones,” Brenda says. Greeting guests are wreaths of pine and grapevine accented with plaid and burlap ribbons and bows. Nestled in one corner of the front porch is a sled. In another is a nest full of eggs. Adding extra warmth are jingle bells and twinkling lights and randomly placed hand-knitted mittens and vintage ice skates. Those who step inside the doors of the Monroe House are welcome to take their time enjoying the décor and then relax in the gazebo with hot chocolate, apple cider, bread pudding, and other festive treats.
Each year, Brenda targets Thanksgiving for completing her holiday decorating. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of the best holidays because they’re all about food and family. We usually have a lot of people in for Thanksgiving and being in a home that’s nicely decorated gives guests a warm feeling, so then they go directly home and start decorating their own houses.”
written by Julie Perine | photographed by Carla Witt Ford