November-December 2015 | LEWES LANDMARK




As Eastern Shore residents gear up for the holidays, the Waltjen family invites you into their lovely historic home for some quintessential Christmas decor inspiration

Written By: Nick Brandi | Photographer: GRANT L. GURSKY

The Waltjens are only the third family to occupy the William Russell House at 410 Pilottown Road since it was built by William Virden sometime between 1791 and 1803. Having been used by Russell as a tannery, all the materials of its construction were handmade, from the cedar shingles, beams and nails to the 12x12 oak joists, walnut stairway and laths. Much of the original wood flooring remains, including boards with widths up to 22 inches. In true Eastern Shore tradition, the structure’s walls were lined with brick held together with oyster-shell mortar, one of which the Waltjens left exposed to showcase the classic feature. It’s no wonder Pam & Chris Waltjen’s beautiful home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. 

Though they have made extensive renovations to the house since they acquired it in 2010, Pam Waltjen says the project with the biggest impact was the conversion of the screened-in porch into a bright and spacious family room.

“It is a beautiful, sunny room full of windows overlooking the canal,” Pam shared. It is also home to our largest Christmas tree. We have a tall, flocked tree that is dedicated to the one and only Santa Claus. It is adorned with red and silver ornaments and many, MANY blown-glass Santas.

“Our daughter, Mary Helen, loves to put her gifts under this tree and wrap them in red and silver papers,” she continued. “Our family also has a longstanding tradition of doing a Springbok Christmas jigsaw puzzle each holiday season, and this is the room in which we do that.”

Holiday decorating at the Waltjen house is no small undertaking. Much of the home’s year-round décor has to be packed and moved to make room for the crush of seasonal decorations to follow. Pam and Chris put lit trees in every room, including the hallways and bathrooms, totaling 16 in all. Somehow, the eclectic arboreal collection work together to create a synergistic Christmas atmosphere that permeates every nook and cranny of the 3,200 sq. ft., 2 3/4-story structure. Likewise, doorways shelves, mantels, bannisters and furniture pieces are all swathed in artificial long-needle pine boughs tipped with “icicles” and white twinkle lights.

In the foyer, a decidedly Victorian aura carries the day. This is where the Waltjens deploy their collection of family pieces from the late 1800s. In keeping with the theme, a small cardboard Christmas village sits on a marble-topped black-walnut buffet, and their tall, slender tree is draped in shades of burgundy, claret, red and gold.

The Waltjens enjoy entertaining, and who wouldn’t in this outstanding example of American residential history. During the holidays, the dining room gets more activity than at any other time of year, becoming a centerpiece of the family’s yuletide celebration. An antique tavern table, for example, showcases three tabletop trees that never fail to evoke a great reaction from the family’s many guests. The trees feature glimmering shades of gold-and-white twinkle lights and are punctuated with a series of wine-, whiskey- and beer-themed ornaments. The dining table, meanwhile, plays host to another cherished family tradition, as the Waltjens pay homage to their Maryland roots with steaming, succulent homemade crab cakes that are the uncontested stars of their Christmas repast.

“All in all, the holidays are a lot of work around this house,” Pam offered, “but in the end it’s always worth it because it’s our way of sharing our Christmas joy with others.”


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