“It is no fun having a house if you do not share it,” says Kirk Verseman, sitting with his wife, Cindy, in the living room of their two-story, 1850-era home in Elsah. “That is one reason it will be on Elsah’s Home for the Holidays house tour.” It is also why next to the front door an outside bench features a pillow displaying the word “welcome.”
Long before they purchased the home, the couple had been familiar with the quaint Mississippi River hillside village. They had made frequent trips to Elsah with their families since childhood, as well as after they were married 41 years ago. Three years ago they decided to rent a house in town to see if they might be interested in moving there, and they purchased their home a year ago. “We love the people and walking to the country church. Walking to get our mail at the post office is like a social hour every day,” Cindy says.
Speaking about their home, Kirk says, “It had not been on the market for over 40 years, and it was in good shape 40 years ago. We are maintaining the integrity of the house, but just the painting has already cost three times the original estimate.”
Originally built by the Onetto family, the home was purchased by Principia College (located on the bluff just above town) and operated as an inn for college guests for four decades beginning in 1931.
“The architecture was Federal before details were added in the 1880s that embellished it into an Italianate home,” Kirk says. “They wanted to make it into a mini-mansion. The most prominent additions were an elaborate ornamental cornice, and a 5-foot-by-15-foot cupola with large windows, which dominates the roof and offers a wide view of the Mississippi River.”
Inside, the stairway to the second floor features a graceful curve, not at the bottom as is customary, but at the top landing. The second floor master bedroom wallpaper displays a hand-painted rose pattern and a ceiling banner of elaborately hand-painted floral wreaths and bouquets. Push the front doorbell, and it releases a rope that moves the clapper on a bell mounted on the wall. On the second floor a Juliette balcony off the guest bedroom adds interest to the front of the house, which is made of red brick hand-formed in Elsah.
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The kitchen on the lower level is everyone’s favorite room, according to Cindy. A collection of copper pans dangle from the ceiling over the center island below, which in fact is the only counter space in the room. Around the perimeter, a series of antique hutches function as storage space.
On one side of the kitchen, patio doors lead to a backyard bordered by lush plantings. The opposite side of the kitchen opens to a secluded courtyard enclosed by stone walls. “The space reminds us of being in Europe,” Cindy says. “We love to sit there, have a glass of wine and visit with the neighbors passing by.”
Each cozy room is filled with antiques, collectibles and art. Collections include clocks, flow-blue china, Toby mugs, silver baby cups and crosses collected from around the world. Examples are found in most rooms and are not necessarily grouped together. “It does not need be expensive. If we like it, we just like it,” Cindy says. Many items were given to each other as wedding and anniversary presents. Landscape paintings by Kirk’s mother, an accomplished artist, are found in most rooms.
As of Nov. 1, the Versemans opened an antique and art gallery in the same space once occupied by Elsah’s Landing, a popular restaurant in town for many years. Three paintings that will not be in the gallery are pencil portraits of the Versemans’ children, each created in five minutes by a street artist in New Orleans. “If the house ever catches fire, those are the only things I must save,” Cindy says.
Kirk and Cindy Verseman
Ages • She is 65, and he is 69.
Home • Elsah
Occupations • Kirk enjoyed a 40-year career at the Missouri Floor Co., a 105-year old family-owned wood flooring business, serving the last 20 years as president. Cindy has taught in various capacities at the Village Lutheran Church in Ladue for 18 years. She is the daughter of Ted Drewes.
Family • Daughters Lauren and Kristin; son Drewes; and three grandchildren.
Elsah’s Home for the Holidays House Tour
What • The Verseman home will be one of 12 residences open for tours. The village museum and the town’s two churches will also be open, and there will be a horse-drawn carriage ride.
When • Noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 7
How much • $15 in advance or $18 on the day of the tour
More info • historicelsah.org