Step inside a ‘Christmas Wonderland’ in West Virginia

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

For fifty years, Lee & Mark Gillespie have transformed their home into a “Christmas Wonderland” each holiday season. 

Their wonderland includes: four large trees, two villages, eight garland doorways, and more than 3,000 ornaments throughout their one-story home. 

Take a tour inside the “Christmas Wonderland” created each year by Lee & Mark Gillespie at their White Sulphur Springs home. Photo by Stephen Baldwin, RealWV.

“We can tell you where every ornament came from,” Mark shares with a smile. 

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Lee adds. “The most enjoyment we get out of it is seeing people enjoy it.”

While the Gillespies host several Christmas parties for friends and family each year, we at RealWV wanted our readers to enjoy the Gillespie “Christmas Wonderland” all across the state. So consider this your own private tour! 

The Gillespies

Lee & Mark Gillespie work on new homemade ornaments in preparation for the holiday season. Photo by Stephen Baldwin, RealWV.

Lee and Mark have been together for 50 years. They’ve lived in Alexandria, VA, Winchester, VA, and White Sulphur Springs, WV. But no matter how far they roam for their professional careers in education, music, the arts, public service and antiques, they always decorated their home for Christmas. 

“We’ve actually cut way down over the years,” Mark explains. “When we were in Alexandria, we had at least 12 large trees.” 

“When we were in Winchester,” Lee interjects, “my sister’s daughter said she counted 27 trees!”

Typically, they start decorating in October. “There’s been so much going on this year, we did it in a few weeks,” Lee says. 

“Melinda and I (at Gillespie’s Flowers & Productions in White Sulphur) have a competition to see who’s going to have Christmas up first,” Mark laughs. “We lost this year!”

Kipton Gillespie

Kipton is their 18-month old sheepdog, so this will be his second Christmas. “Last year, we had already put most everything up when we got him,” remembers Mark. “This year he helped us. And he has not bothered a single ornament.” 

The Ornaments 

Speaking of the ornaments, the origins of the 3,000+ ornaments throughout the house vary. Some came from vacations as souvenirs, some were given by former students, some commemorate locations or events in the Gillespie’s life, but most of them…were handmade by Lee. 

“I started making them in the 1970s,” Lee recalls. 

“They were kits from LeeWards, with sequins and bugle beads,” says Mark. 

“But they were kind of boring in the kits,” notes Lee, “so we decided to do our own.” 

At a desk by the front door, there’s an ornament station where all the magic happens. Lee fashions new ornaments every chance he gets throughout the year. He finds inspiration in the personalities and causes of his friends and family. If you’re lucky, you can catch him at a community sale where he parts with some of his ornament creations. 

The Trees

For the Gillespies, their Christmas Wonderland is a gift they offer to the community. Each year, they welcome several hundred people into their home for get-togethers. And the trees are always the center of attention. They contains ornaments dating back to the Civil War era, among others.

The Villages

“Kids have a tendency to be in awe of the villages,” says Lee. 

“They’re glued down,” Mark clarifies. “We love for kids to come and see them.” 

I assumed they villages were glued in place and stayed that way year round, but I was mistaken. Each year, Lee arranges the villages differently. 

“I want it to look like an active village, as if these people live here,” he says of his creation. 

Once Lee arranges the village, Mark adds the snow and runs the electrical. “We ran out of snow this year,” Mark adds. “It’s the supply chain, like everything else!” 

The Doorways 

The Gillespies were looking for ways to maximize their decorating space several years ago, and began using their doorways. In total, eight doorways in their home are decorated. 

They run garland with lights and then add ornaments as well. Each doorway has a theme–The Greenbrier, 12 days of Christmas, music, The White House, fairies, and more. 

Christmas Wonderland

Lee tells the story of a woman who once attended a Christmas party at their house. She was taken with the decor, and asked to snap a picture. Of course, they agreed and told her to take as many pictures as she wanted. 

“Thank you,” the woman said. “My daughter thinks I put too many ornaments up at Christmas, so I want to show her your tree to say that I can put even more on!”

“We enjoy this,” Mark says. “It’s our gift to the community, and we hope people find enjoyment in seeing our Christmas Wonderland.”


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