The Perfect Prescription for a Happy Holiday
Nothing in Portsmouth, Ohio, conveys holiday joy and charm more than the attractive Franklin Boulevard home of Russ and Dot Harcha. Constructed in 1926, their handsome English Tudor style house was designed by architect Eric Strindberg who also built St. Joseph’s Monastery on Timlin Hill. The spirit of the season extends throughout its spacious rooms with 12 Christmas trees decorated in different themes, lighted garlands gleaming in gold and burgundy, and other unique trimmings.
Situated on a stately, tree-lined brick street, the house’s Tudor design and traditional décor perfectly sets the stage for a Dickens-era effect. A festive wreath and a garland of greenery grace the arched front door, and shrubbery glitters with rainbows of multi-colored lights. Red quarry tile lines the front porch and extends throughout a sunroom on the south end of the house where numerous windows showcase the twinkling white lights of a Christmas tree easily visible from the street at night.
Inside, the glow of holiday decorations replicates the warm red hues of oriental rugs that lend an inviting atmosphere to the expansive hall, living room and dining room. A seven-foot living room Christmas tree is trimmed in metal ornaments, including a circus train with a giraffe sticking his head out of a cage and burnished fruits. A large wreath hangs above the tiled fireplace, crafted by the Rookwood Pottery Company, and garlands interwoven with tiny lights and burgundy and gold ornaments line the mantel. Nearby, a multi-level arrangement displays bronze mortars and pestles filled with ornaments and pinecones, symbolic of Russ Harcha’s long career as a pharmacist. Even a large bronze deer reclining on the coffee table is decked out with a big burgundy bow.
Additional lighted garlands top antique pieces including a massive nine-foot tall bookcase and secretary in the living room and large breakfronts in the hall and dining room, featuring Dot’s porcelain Lladró angels, oriental blue geese and other favorite figurines. A collection of hand-carved wooden Santa Claus figures enhances the holiday scene in the hall breakfront.
Dot’s decorating passion was ignited in 1979 by her neighbor Kitty Hurst who asked her to participate in a holiday home tour sponsored by the Coterie Club hospital auxiliary.
“We had a yellow cat and I found a folk art yellow cat ornament that year. Using it as a guide, I made a lot more,” said Dot. The “cat” tree always returns to the dining room.
“From that time, I started to collect trees and ornaments at sales, auctions and travels,” she said.
Many of Dot’s decorating ideas have come from Bronner’s Christmas Store (frequently referred to the “world’s largest”) in Frankenmuth, Michigan, and from gift shows she attended when buying for the gift shop area at Wurster’s Pharmacy on Kinney’s Lane in Portsmouth.
A lavishly decorated table is the showpiece of the dining room, highlighted by an elegant floral arrangement in the center and garlands reaching to bronze and glass candelabras. The table is set with Dot’s Lenox® china “Holiday” pattern and crystal tumblers at each place contain red ornaments. Huge glass apothecary jars filled with ornaments sit on the buffet and a baker’s rack holds dozens of delicate glass Christmas trees that add to Dot’s total of 275 trees in the house during the holidays.
Old-fashioned bubble lights adorn a tree in the first-floor powder room, and five trees of varying sizes nestle on a broad window seat in the staircase landing leading to the second floor. Upstairs, antique decorations and Hallmark ornaments embellish a tree in the master bedroom; and in “the girls’ room,” a tree shines with crystal baubles and pink “show girls” in fishnet hose. A Dickens’ Christmas Village® spreads below.
Russ’ office also has a tree trimmed in pharmaceutical items, Ohio State-themed ornaments and tin trains. Tiny Christmas trees and miniature people bring a holiday touch to his extensive collection of antique cast-iron coin banks shaped like buildings displayed on shelves upstairs and on a wide window ledge in the kitchen.
Dot usually begins her holiday decorating the second week in November and tries to have the first floor finished by Thanksgiving.
“She has a steady pace,” Russ said, recalling days when “I would come home from work and boxes would be everywhere.”
“When I open the boxes and get everything out, it’s like opening Christmas gifts,” Dot commented. “It’s like visiting old friends every year.”
The Harchas moved into their Franklin home in 1978 after living in Columbus for 22 years. Born and raised in Portsmouth, Russ began working at age 15 for Albert Egbert at Wurster’s Pharmacy on Chillicothe Street and then Gallaher’s Drug Store.
Dot, from New Boston, met him at age 16 when her mother told her, “Change your dress and comb your hair. You are going to Gallaher’s to get a job at the candy counter.”
She worked there for three years and the couple married in 1956. They immediately moved to Columbus so that Russ could begin his education in pharmacy at The Ohio State University. Dot worked as a beautician and raised three sons, Russ Jr., Bill and Chuck. The Harchas owned two pharmacies in the Columbus area. One day Egbert came into their Gahanna pharmacy, said he was planning to retire and wanted Russ to buy his Portsmouth drug store. At that time, both Russ and Dot had widowed mothers in Portsmouth who were in their 80s, so Russ bought Wurster’s in Portsmouth in 1977. Dot followed him to Portsmouth a year later after Bill graduated from high school. All three sons graduated from Ohio State; Chuck followed his dad into pharmacy and worked for him for 20 years at Wurster’s Pharmacy on Kinney’s Lane.
While the couple owned Wurster’s, the store celebrated its 100th birthday. Russ retired in 2010 saying “he had been on his feet for 50 years.” Now, he enjoys going to sales and auctions, collecting cast-iron banks and oriental rugs while Dot likes to garden. Both, of course, have a special affinity for decorating for the holidays.
And, their hard work won’t go unnoticed as all the family will gather in Portsmouth for Christmas in the picturesque Franklin house where the Harchas create the “perfect prescription” for a happy holiday.
Photos Ashley G. Quinn