Monday, May 20, 2024

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Victorian Christmas

The People Who Maintain Our History

Executive Director Justin Wetenhall graduated with a history degree from the University of Michigan Flint in 2016 and considers himself incredibly proud and lucky to be the Director of the Whaley House, which has always been his goal. “Flint is about to have a Renaissance… and I am excited to be here during the Renaissance of Flint.”With the Christmas season finally here it’s hard not to get nostalgic. Everything is a reminder of the past; the decorations from when you were a kid, the scent of cinnamon, visiting grandma. With the New Year being the time to look forward, Christmas is the perfect time to look back. Traditions, both the ones we follow and the ones we find, bring comfort by connecting us to our history. Family and friends come together, and we reach out to the ones we miss but can’t be with.

The Origin Of Flint Michigan

Flint’s history was started by Jacob Smith as a trading post on the Flint River in 1819. We owe our collective historical knowledge to those who preserve that history. An excellent example of that preservation is the Whaley Historic House Museum, the home of one of Flint’s most prominent families. For December, the Whaley Historic House Museum is decorated for ‘Victorian Christmas,’ starting with Black Friday.

Victorian Times

The Whaley House, built in the 1860s, is one of the only houses in Flint that is still staged to look like the Victorian era, a time of strict social rules dictating standards of courtship, marriage, and economic opportunity. Victorian social rules were so strict that the curvy legs of tables were hidden beneath skirts, lest they arouse unseemly attention from the gentlemen. Yes. I am serious.

Main Hall

A visitor’s first view of the mansion is the main hall, where Art Nouveau stained glass in primary colors adorn the exterior doors. Fans of etched glass pattern the inner room door and subtle, rich, gold, and cream wallpaper underlie it all, displaying the Chinoiserie style adopted after their journey to the Far East.

The vestibule between the two spaces displays Lincrusta, a pressed leather wallpaper.

An ornate, silver bowl collects calling cards indicating visitors and requesting return correspondence. This was the Victorian answering machine.

Front Parlor

The front parlor was closed off by sliding doors and not used except for special occasions. In 1895 the special occasion was the wedding reception of adopted daughter Florence to William Crapo-Orrel who was the governor’s grandson. It was the biggest society event in Michigan that year. The Whaley’s had electric lights, water closets (bathrooms) and a claw-foot bathtub when most people had outhouses and kerosene lamps. The parlor, the music room, and the library all have fireplaces with original tile, and the steamrolled wood in the front parlor is the last example of its kind. The Whaley’s stopped updating the styles in their home at the turn of the century and the 1910 style remained. 


The library served as the Family Room and houses the desk from Mr. Whaley’s office at Citizens Bank where he was the president. Here he signed the bank loan book for $2000 to start the Flint Road Car Company which merged into what became General Motors.

Music Room

The music room boasts an Art Nouveau stained glass window. This is where upper-class ladies gathered and formed committees for philanthropic ways to spend their husband’s fortunes. They built libraries, hospitals, the Flint Symphony Orchestra, and the Flint Institute of Music.

Main Dining Room

The main dining room contains the original fireplace which was donated to the estate by the Atwood’s granddaughter – who sent it back in shoe boxes. It was pieced back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.


In the kitchen, we find a Garland stove, from when Detroit was the stove capital of the world instead of the car capital. This thing is seriously impressive. It burned wood, gas, and coal. This thing could feed a small army and looks like your great granny became a Transformer. Garland stoves are still made in Detroit, by the way.


The Whaley Historic House Museum is the last house standing from Millionares’ Row on Kearsley St. Most were demolished between 1930 and 1975. The house caught fire in 2015 when a roofer left his torch on. Director Justin Wetenhall was a volunteer at the time. My Great Uncle, Russ ‘Buster’ Roberts, had just finished staging the house along with a group of local volunteers who generously donate their time each holiday season. No one was hurt and only the roof and attic burned, but there was considerable water damage. The wallpaper and parquet floors had to be restored.

Heidi Farmer
Heidi Farmer
A dedicated Community Writer specializing in politics, places, and people within Genesee County, Heidi holds an Associate of Applied Arts Degree in Electronic Communications from Delta College, and a Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design with a Minor in Technical and Professional Writing from Saginaw Valley State University. Heidi's talent as an illustrator earned her the Illustrator of the Year Award during her time at Delta. She began her writing career in 2013 with the Lifestyle magazine North Midland Living. Heidi is also a versatile multimedia artist driven by a passion for expanding green spaces and promoting the planting of Native Species for ecological balance and serene human interaction.
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