Marsha and Jake Walton of Hannibal have become experts at incorporating reality into their dreams. The Civil War buffs and history aficionados surround themselves with the era of Victorian influence, in their home as well as in their travels. And somewhere during the last 18 years, their son, Nathan, has picked up upon their interests and adopted them as his own.
This combined family passion for the complexities of an earlier era have led Marsha, Jake and Nathan to where they are right now – in a Victorian house at 1200 Hill Street, neighbors to the historical likes of the most elite of Hannibal society.
During the year they have called this 1904 Victorian-style house their home, they have reflected upon their good fortune to be able to pull together needs and wants, in order to create reality.
Marsha was a Civil War buff long before she married Jake nearly 20 years ago. He “married into” the passion, she said, and from early on, they attended re-enactment events together. When Jake was born a year later, it was natural for them to pack their son along for the adventure.
When he was young, Marsha and Jack realized their son had a developmental disorder that would change the course of their lives. Instead of attending and participating in re-enactments where the noise was upsetting to their son, they made trips to battlefields at non-peak times, where they could study the history – and teach their son - at their own pace.
Their favorite places to stay were bed and breakfasts, with family-like atmosphere and dining experiences. Their favorite is the Duff Green Mansion in Vicksburg, Miss. They made friends with Harry, the owner.
“Six years ago Nathan said, ‘I want to do this when I get older, like Harry.’ He was 11, and we blew him off. After three years, now we’ve decided to take him seriously,” Marsha said.
Marsha and Jake decided that a home-based business such as a bed and breakfast would be a perfect fit for their family. It would encompass their love of history and at the same time provide employment for their son after he graduates from high school.
Because Nathan will be a senior next year, and Marsha and Jake want to be able to enjoy all of the associated activities with their son, they don’t want to open a bed and breakfast just yet. But once the decision was made regarding their future, they started out on a search to find the perfect home to fit their needs.
“I drove by this house and I knew this was it,” Marsha said. “It took a year of negotiations. We lived on Comanche. We put our home on the market and prayed for a buyer.”
They moved in to the house at 1200 Hill Street on Jan. 18, 2013.
Then it was time to move. Nathan excels in music and has a lot of friends in the HHS band. “We went to the band kids and said ‘if you’ll help us move, we’ll pay you $10 an hour.’ In one weekend, we got everything moved.”
Now, their goal is to have the house ready to open as a bed and breakfast in the next three or four years.
of the house
The third floor originally served as servant’s quarters. “All the walls have been taken down, it is just used for storage now,” Marsha said. “We will build a two-room guest suite up there.”
When it was originally constructed, the house had gas lighting, which was later converted to electric. There are still remnants of the gas jets in their master bedroom. Last fall, they had the house completely rewired, top to bottom, and an electrician fished the old tube and knob wiring out of the walls. “It was expensive, but we are safe, and happy for that,” she said.
“There were two or three original light fixtures. We kept them, but we moved them” to other locations in the house. “We changed out the other light fixtures, to go with period pieces,” Marsha said.
The house has a side entrance – known originally as the servants entrance – on the west side, leading upstairs via a narrow, winding staircase. There were sleeping quarters in the house accessible from this entrance for a butler, maid/cook and nanny.
The original owner was Simonson, the first superintendent of the Hannibal public school district. “He did a lot of entertaining for the school district,” which could explain why the rooms “are huge and fancy,” Marsha said. “They only stayed here until 1907,” when Mr. Simonson accepted a superintendent’s job in Jefferson City.
The fireplace in the living room has imported tiles and hand-carved columns. “Most working class people wouldn’t have been able to afford this,” she said.
Because of their love for all things past, the Waltons have been collecting antiques throughout their marriage. While the furniture they have looks nice in the house, “I’m on a mission to find more,” Marsha said.
Nathan’s room is furnished almost exclusively in 1850s furniture. They were able to acquire an 1860s knock-down wardrobe that belonged to a Union officer during the Civil War. It is seven feet tall and five feet wide, with shelves. It has four bolts to hold it together. It even has the original glass mirror on the door. “It is perfect for an entertainment center,” Marsha said.
While many of the rooms in the house had previously been restored, their bedroom was not. She hopes to add a punch tin ceiling, and get the walls patched and repaired. There is a dressing room off of the main bedroom, where she has hung one of the home’s original light fixtures.
They are now choosing paint for inside the house in colors appropriate for the period. “We’ve been getting swatches from Victorian magazines.” Lowes and Sherwin Williams both offer paint in traditional Victorian colors, she said.
She wants to paint the living room in an historical red, and the parlor in another historic color. She wants a soft blue for the dining room.
In the future, they will patch the outdoor steps leading to the front door, and to find a contractor to replace a few pieces of rotted wood and do some outside painting.
The bed and breakfast
“We want this to be a family oriented business,” Marsha said. “That’s what we look for when we travel. Sometimes it feels like there are too many strangers at hotels. Bed and breakfasts are calm and quiet.” She wants to set the rate at their bed and breakfast so that it is comparable to local hotels. “We would like families to be able to afford to stay here.”
She plans to do the cooking. “I’m no Martha Stewart,” she said, “but I’ve had a great friend give me recipes and a cookbook. She plans to offer three different breakfast styles: continental, a breakfast basket, or a buffet. “Some people want to eat in their room. We like to be served and meet the other guests.”
She is already collecting silver pieces to use when the bed and breakfast – to be named Magnolia Hill – opens.