Celebrating Christmas past in restored historic home

by Kayla Cooper

Any native to Morrilton is well acquainted with the Virden family’s historic home on Green Street.

Known as the Moose House, the two-story white home has been a source of speculation and conversation since conception when it had its beginning as a piece of deeded land from President James Monroe in 1823. It received its name as the Moose House when the property came under the care of James M. Moose in 1860. It stayed in the eccentric and secretive Moose family until Bart and Janna Virden bought the house in 2008.

Homemade pinecones and ribbon garland frame the entryway to the front parlor. (Mike Kemp photos) 

“Bart had grown up by the house and loved it, but the house wasn’t for sale,” Janna said. “We jumped at the opportunity when the Moose family decided to move closer to their daughter.”

The Virdens talked excitedly about their love affair with the house. “We leaped with our heart, not our head,” said Janna as she discussed the many renovations done to the home. As with any old home, renovations proved to be a challenge because nothing was square and the floors were not level.

The change in ownership to the Virdens sparked much talk and excitement throughout the town of Morrilton about public access to the interior of the house. “There was such a buzz about the house, we thought it would be a great addition to the Christmas tour for people to finally view,” said Janna.   

Therefore, not wanting to take anything away from the old beauty of the Moose home, Janna determined to decorate her home with traditions in mind. She began her projects at the first of November by gathering pine cones to be utilized in various ways. The versatile pinecones make their debut in the front parlor across the doorway. The garland was made by gently drilling holes through the pinecones. Stringing them with ribbon and small gold Christmas balls created a cozy simplicity for the holiday. They are echoed on the parlor fireplace as hanging finials and on the nature-themed Christmas tree.  

“I also got really into dried oranges as well as the pinecones,” Janna said. “I added the pheasant feathers to continue my nod to nature.”  The room is a refreshing departure from the popular glitz and glam normally seen during the holidays.

One of the most fun spots of the holiday splendor is the first thing house guests see when they enter the house – a tall pencil tree dubbed the “Memory Tree” is covered in the family’s favorite nostalgic ornaments and glitters with touches of gold. “It’s our place to put all of the family ornaments we have collected over the years, and it’s our holding tree for all of our gifts,” Janna said. Along the adjoining staircase are that year’s Christmas cards accented with bows. The colorful garland is a resourceful way to display all of the cards the family receives from loved ones.  

The feeling of family Christmases continues throughout the house into each of the rooms. The dining room is tinseled with jewel toned blues, magnolia leaves and handsome Santa Claus figurines. Their beautiful yellow kitchen is decorated with more dried oranges and cinnamon sticks, which give the room a wonderful aroma. In addition, Janna tries to embellish each of the home’s six working fireplaces according to its individual style.

Upstairs in the master suite, the Virdens have created their own beach oasis. The dreamy blue, reminiscent of sandy beaches on the Gulf Coast, gives a beautiful background to the seashell ornamentation. Broken sand dollars and seashells are used in the fireplace garland to always remind the Virdens of the “broken beaches” that once were in the gulf from oil spills.

The most fun feature of the master suite is the holiday painting made of Bart. “Bart loves Santa Claus, so we had him made into a Santa Claus one year,” Janna said. It is one of the favorite parts of Christmas of the family.  

The Virdens say it is nice to have holidays at home after spending so many years traveling between family gatherings for Christmas. Now the couple is able to welcome their three children back home each Christmas for festivities in their gorgeously restored historic home.