BRAMWELL — The population of this Mercer County town is expected to swell this weekend for the 30th annual Christmas Homes Tour.
The population usually is about 300 in this town with red brick streets and a magical setting where neighbors know each other, sit on porches and gather at the local restaurants.
During its heyday, thousands lived in bustling Bramwell, known as West Virginia's town of millionaire coal barons.
Bramwell was incorporated in 1888 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The town still sports stately mansions, restored and maintained by owners from all walks of life.
Bramwell, named for its first postmaster, Joseph H. Bramwell, was home to more than a dozen millionaires in the early 20th century.
Betty Goins, who grew up in the area, has been part of the annual homes tour since the beginning. She is a virtual walking history of the area and organizer of the event.
"We want to preserve our history," she said. "We are just a teeny dot. We take great pride in our coal heritage. The tour brings local people together as well as visitors. It's a lot of fun for those of us who are native."
When coal was being mined in the late 1800s, the population of the town grew rapidly.
Goins' great-grandfather and her grandfather were among those who made their livings through coal mining.
She knows details of how the town grew to attract the wealthy, the tragic fire of 1910 that destroyed many buildings, and the stock market crash of 1929 that led to the Great Depression. By 1933, the wealthy Bank of Bramwell was liquidated, leaving behind stories of janitor Henry Wade who once pushed a wheelbarrow full of payroll money from the bank to the train station for shipment to the mines.
The Christmas Homes Tour is set for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday featuring costumed interpreters guiding visitors through each historic house that will be open that day. Each site is steeped in history.
Tickets may be purchased on the day of the tour at Bramwell Presbyterian Church. Guests may then walk along the self-guided path lined with luminaries and carolers. There will also be professional musicians along the way, including a pianist and a harpist.
The restored homes feature ornate woodwork, stained-glass windows, ballrooms, winding staircases, elegant parlors and generous porches. Homeowners have been busily decorating for the holidays.
Among those ready to greet their guests are Sharon and John Houston, owners of the I.T. Mann house. Retired from the U.S. Air Force, the couple spent the last eight years restoring the house with more plans in the works.
"We re-plumbed, rewired, and put on a new roof," Sharon Houston said. "It took two years to put the porch together."
She has decorated 17 Christmas trees in various themes throughout the 8,000-square-foot home.
The house has changed hands several times since it was constructed in the late 1800s.
The original owner was Isaac T. Mann, who lived there with his wife and two children at various intervals for about 20 years. Mann was one of the most powerful men in the coalfields and was affiliated with the Bank of Bramwell.
Mann maintained several homes in different states and was hit hard by the Great Depression. He died May 18, 1932, when he suffered a heart attack at age 63. His son, William, committed suicide later that same year at the age of 33.
Tales of a bustling town, wealth, poverty and tragedy will be sprinkled along the way as guests tour this quaint town.
While walking along, be sure to visit the local shops such as the Blue Moon, owned by Annette Petrelis and Barbara Reichard, who moved to the area from Florida about nine years ago and have invested in the economy.
Blue Moon Gifts offers a variety of merchandise, including new and old, with unusual flair.
Petrelis and Reichard own what is known as the Collins Building on Main Street that houses four businesses and four apartments. Aside from the Blue Moon, the row of businesses includes the Bramwell Post Office, Bramwell Cafe and the Bramwell Mini Mall. The apartments located above the businesses may be rented by tourists. For lodging information or reservations call 813-748-9403 or 813-748-9402.
Petrelis and Reichard also bought a couple of houses in the area and the old bank building that is now the Bank of Bramwell Event Center where parties, weddings and other events may be held.
Reichard said there is something magical about living in Bramwell and local residents are eager to share their enthusiasm with visitors.
Other sites scheduled to be open along the tour this weekend are the Coal Heritage Trail Interpretive Center located in the train depot, E.S. Baker House, Hewitt House, Pack House, Collins House, and Bank of Bramwell.
Goins has compiled a book entitled "The Comprehensive History of Bramwell, West Virginia." It is to be available for sale on tour day.
House tours are held twice each year. The spring tour is always the second Saturday of May and the Christmas tour the second Saturday of December. Tours are sponsored by the Bramwell Theatre Corp. with proceeds going to fund the summer theater festival when professional actors are brought to the area to present plays. The date has not yet been set for the next festival.
Christmas Homes Tour tickets are $15. Goins will be on hand at the Bramwell Presbyterian Church to kick off the event with a slide show at 5 p.m. Visitors are then free to tour the area and see the houses until 8 p.m. For more information, call Betty Goins at 304-248-8381.
Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at charlo...@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1246.