Grand old Belleville home puts out welcome mat for street fair

News-DemocratMay 23, 2014 

One of the most recognizable homes in Belleville is Janet and Dave Brannon's historic brick mansion on South Charles.

Well, it was a mansion before it withstood decades of abuse, neglect and tacky decorating.

"At one time, this house was 10 apartments," said Janet, 70, a former TV syndicator. "In fact, there was a bathroom in the entrance hall."

For the past 20 years, the Brannons have tirelessly worked to restore the 130-year-old home to its original glory.

That includes 5,000 square feet of living space with 12-foot-high ceilings, eight fireplaces, a vestibule, massive woodwork, tall windows with shutters, pocket doors, transoms and antique light fixtures.

"My first time coming (into the house) was for a holiday dinner, and, honestly, it was hard to take it all in," said Anita Draper, 32, who is engaged to Janet's son, Eric Beck. "There's so much, and it's so pretty."

On a recent afternoon, Anita and Eric were helping Janet prepare for the Belleville Historical Society House Tour, which is being held in conjunction with the Old Belleville Street Fair on June 7.

Dave, 60, a carpenter and millwright who installs equipment at power plants, was working out of town.

The Brannon home will be one of nine homes open for viewing on Abend, Garfield and Charles streets in Old Belleville Historic District.

"It's a step back in time on streets that date back to the 1850s," said tour organizer Joan Braswell, 70, whose German street house is one of the nine.

"The people who lived on Garfield were the bricklayers and the working-class families. The people who lived on Abend were wealthier."

The Brannon home was built in 1884 by Bernhard Hartmann, owner of Star Brewery. It was the site of an elaborate wedding when one of his eight children married.

Hartmann died in 1919, and the home was converted into a boarding house. Tenants included a justice of the peace in legal trouble who committed suicide.

"Police came to the door to arrest him, and he shot himself," Janet said.

The Brannons bought the home through foreclosure in the early 1990s. Janet had done several other renovations, and she was itching to get back in the ring.

The couple removed dropped ceilings, paneling and layers and layers of wallpaper, surprised that so many original features remained.

Today, Dave's handiwork can be seen everywhere. In the office, he built floor-to-ceiling, birch and walnut bookshelves based on Janet's design.

"This is where we hang out and watch TV and eat popcorn with the three dogs (Cavalier King Charles spaniels Susie, Cammie and Willy)," Janet said.

Dave installed a deluxe stone fish pond and waterfall in the shade garden, which used to be a parking lot. Today, it's full of hostas, bird feeders and yard sculpture.

One of Dave's most tedious projects was hand-painting a ceiling medallion with colorful fruit and birds in the dining room.

"It's absolutely amazing," Janet said. "It's handmade plaster work, and it's so intricate. It took Dave three weeks on scaffolding to paint it."

The Brannons have filled the home with an eclectic mix of furniture and artwork, silk flowers and lace curtains.

Janet is a community activist involved in issues ranging from social justice to cancer research, homelessness to domestic violence. She has served 14 years on Belleville Historic Preservation Commission.

Over the years, the Brannons have hosted meetings and fundraisers in their two parlors, known as the green room and red room.

"If you can't share it with people, what's the point?" Janet said.

The house tour will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 7. All the homes are within walking distance of each other.

One of the tour's purposes is to further the cause of historic preservation in Belleville.

"(These homeowners) can show people what can be done with their own homes," Joan said. "You don't have to tear it down and build something new."

At a glance

What: Belleville Historical Society House Tour

When: 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 7, in conjunction with Old Belleville Street Fair

Where: David Braswell home, 619 E. Garfield; Joan Braswell home, 606 E. Garfield; Nadeau home, 203 Abend; Koger home, 224 Abend; Hettenhausen home, 302 Abend; Rynecki home, 315 Abend; Wallis and Reily home, 402 Abend; Wolf home, 609 E. Garfield; and Brannon home, 118 S. Charles

Tickets: $10 in advance at Circa Boutique, Local Lucy's, Dill's Floral Haven, Miscellanea Coffee House, Fletcher's Kitchen and Tap, Eckert's Country Store and Eckert's Florist; or $12 on tour day at Historic Garfield Street Saloon

Information: Visit bellevillehistoricalsociety.org

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