Victorian House Museum
Berlin, OH - Events of Friday, August 11, 2017
We found out about the Victorian House Museum located in nearby Millersburg through Groupon. Although we have passed the house numerous times, we didn't realize it was a museum that was open to the public. Through Groupon, we purchased tickets for $9 for the two of us shortly after we arrived in Ohio in the spring. Admission is regularly priced at $10 for adults ($9 for seniors). Last Friday, we finally decided to use our tickets and pay the house a visit.
The Victorian House was built in 1901 by L. H. Brightman, who was a wealthy industrialist from Cleveland. He apparently came to Millersburg back then looking for inexpensive labor for his company, the Brightman Manufacturing Company, which made shafts and couplings for mill equipment.
The only way his wife Mary would agree to move to the small town of Millersburg was if she could have the biggest, grandest house in town so Mr. Brightman set about to fulfill her wishes by building a 6,000 square foot, 28-room mansion in the late-Victorian, Queen Anne style.
The cost to build the house was $10,000, which was a lot of money back then. It had hot and cold running water and electric lighting, both of which were quite advanced for the time, especially in rural Ohio. The light fixtures in the house were equipped for both gas and electric because the electric power plant in town only operated for a couple of hours a day. They would use gas lights the rest of the time.
Once inside the gigantic 8 foot tall, 4 foot wide front door, we were impressed by the English oak-lined entrance hall. At the end of the entrance hall is a beautiful English oak stairway with 78 hand-turned spindles. The stairway was made in Europe and shipped to Millersburg along with a crew of craftsmen to do the installation.
L. H. Brightman, his wife, and 8 of his 12 children (the other 4 children were grown) only lived in the house about two years. The Brightman Manufacturing Company quickly outgrew Millersburg so Mr. Brightman moved his factory to Shelby, Ohio, in 1903. He moved his family there shortly thereafter.
It was difficult to find a buyer for such a grand house in a small town like Millersburg, but a group of physicians finally bought it in 1907 and converted it to a sanitarium. The sanitarium failed, and two years later the house was sold to H. C. Lee, who was the senior partner in a construction company.
The house remained in the Lee family until 1971 when the last resident, Lena Lee Unkel, was moved to the county home by her family. Lena was 83 and no longer able to care for herself. She died at the county home in 1975.
Because Lena was unable to afford the upkeep of the house in her later years, she had closed most of it off and was living in only two or three rooms on the first floor. When the Holmes County Historical Society bought the house at auction in 1971 following Lena's departure, the house was almost in ruins. The entire lower level was covered in thick, black, oily soot from the coal furnace. A total of 75 tons of clinkers (fused ash residue from burning coal) had accumulated in the basement and had to be removed. The third floor had been invaded by pigeons and their droppings were everywhere. Plumbing on the upper floors had frozen and the pipes had burst because of the lack of heat. Water to the upper floors had been shut off, but the plumbing had never been repaired. There were also lots of problems with roof leaks.
The historical society undertook the monumental task cleaning and restoring the house. It took two years before they could open just the first floor to the public (all three main floors plus the basement are now open). Except for electrical, plumbing and roofing repairs that were done by professionals, all work was done by volunteers. Cleaning the black grime left by the furnace revealed the beautiful English oak of the staircase, intricate carvings on the fireplaces, parquet floors, and stenciling on the ceilings.
The next photo shows the parquet floor and the fireplace in the reception parlor. The parquet floors are oak inlaid with cherry and walnut. Each room has a different pattern. The fireplace is one of four in the house. All are different, and all were imported from England. This one is made from sycamore wood.
The next photo shows the fireplace in the music room. This one is quarter-sawn oak.
In the next photo, Margery is checking out the wallpaper in the music room that was imported from England. It has an encrusted design and is original to the house. It was painstakingly cleaned and restored.
None of the original furniture remains. It was all sold at auction back in 1971. The house is furnished with pieces appropriate to the period.
We continued our self-guided tour through the kitchen, butler's pantry and into the dining room. The photo below of the dining room shows some of the restored stenciling that is prevalent on the first floor.
The tour continued to the second floor where we saw a couple of children's bedrooms and the master bedroom
There are a whole slew of bedrooms on the second floor (the Brightmans brought 8 kids with them to Millersburg), but only a few of them are depicted as bedrooms. A few are used for office and storage space, and the rest are used to house exhibits on local history. The next photo shows the military history room which covers the Civil War through Viet Nam.
We then went to the third floor where the servants' quarters and the ballroom are located. The ballroom had a set of double windows with a space between them where plants could be grown.
The tour then took us to the basement. The next photo shows one of the clinkers from the coal furnace. The original coal furnace has been replaced by a more modern gas-fired unit with a new boiler, but the original radiators are still being used.
The Victorian House and Museum is very well done, and is an obvious labor of love by the historical society members. Although there was disagreement among the members back in 1971 as to whether or not to purchase the Brightman/Lee House, we're glad they decided to proceed because it would have been a shame to have lost such a gem.
It was mid afternoon when we finished our tour of the Victorian House, which was a perfect time to stop at the La Palma Mexican Restaurant located only a few blocks away in downtown Millersburg for lupper. We were a little disappointed when we were there several weeks ago, and we wanted to give them another chance.
We thought one of the reasons we were disappointed last time was we ordered from the lunch menu and consequently felt like we didn't quite get enough to eat. Therefore, we ordered dinners this time.
Margery had chicken chimichangas (dinner gives you two chimis as opposed to only one for lunch), and Paul had a combo dinner consisting of a ground beef enchilada, a chili relleno, and a chulupa. This time it was Margery who got the guacamole salad served on top of her hot food even though she requested it on the side. Last time, Paul had that problem. Except for the salad (fortunately, Margery had enough room on her plate to be able to slide the salad off to the side before it got too wilted, and Paul's dinner didn't include a salad), we were much happier with our meals this time. The food was good, and we got plenty to eat.
After our lupper at La Palma, we headed back to Scenic Hills to relax for the rest of the afternoon and evening.