By Jane Beathard
Come the first Saturday of November, staff and volunteers begin decking the halls of Orr Mansion in Bellefontaine with holiday finery.
They resurrect 60 Christmas trees — plus garland and wreaths — from a half-dozen storage areas in the century-old house and prepare to make the Logan County landmark a showcase of community celebration.
It’s an annual labor of love that began in earnest in the early 2000s when school children from all over the county started “adopting” and decorating individual Christmas trees in the mansion and adjoining Logan County History Center.
A variety of community organizations and businesses soon joined the effort, concentrating their attention on the mansion itself.
“We’re fortunate to have so many creative groups involved,” said Todd McCormick, the center’s director.
Some groups go for pretty, while some go for a theme that reflects their organization, said Beth Marshall, the center’s archivist and Christmas committee chairman.
She particularly remembers a year the local genealogy society decorated two trees as a bride and groom at the altar.
Ornaments from different historic eras are popular, as are those from distant places.
The 2017 theme is “Christmas Around The World” and the mansion’s second and third floor rooms will feature decorations from Germany, Sweden, Mexico, England, Austria and Japan, Marshall said.
Visitors throughout the holiday season vote on their favorites with one prize going to the top-scoring tree decorated by adults and another to the top-scoring tree adorned by children.
It’s likely William Orr would love seeing how his dream home has become a source of community pride, Marshall said.
Orr made his first fortune in lumber, and as a result, had access to the finest oak, cherry and walnut for the house. Construction of the neo-classical, 16-room mansion began in 1906 and took two years to complete at a cost of $40,000 — a fortune in those days.
Local legend says noted residential architect George Barber may have had a hand in the design, using Orr’s input — although no one knows for sure, McCormick noted.
Sometime after 1908, Orr left his family in Ohio and headed West where he made a second fortune mining silver and gold in Idaho. He also built a second home there.
The Orr family relinquished ownership of the house in 1922. And in the years that followed, the stately old mansion saw a parade of owners and uses. It was an American Legion Hall in the 1940s and a nursing home in the 1960s and ’70s.
By the mid-1980s, it was vacant with only a family of raccoons calling it home, McCormick said.
The Logan County Historical Society purchased the run-down structure in 1988 for $50,000 and began a painstaking remodeling. A year later, the mansion opened for public tours.
A holiday trip to the mansion is now a family tradition for some in west central Ohio.
As many as 1,000 visitors are expected to browse its rooms and hallways in December. Holiday open house weekends may draw up to 200 visitors a day.
“Some people come every year,” Marshall said with pride.
THE ORR MANSION
Logan County History Center
521 E. Columbus Ave.,
Bellefontaine, OH 43311
IF YOU GO
The Orr Mansion and Logan County History Center are open from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday year-round. There is no charge for admission, but donations are welcomed.
Special Christmas open houses with festive music and snacks are set this year for 1 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 2 and 3 and Dec. 9 and 10.