Sisters Kali, 9, and Anya, 6, have decked the halls of their house. They have put up the Christmas tree and arranged presents beneath it. They have looped a string of tiny red balls across the front of the house. Sometimes, they assemble the entire family, including the maid, around the tree and pretend it’s Christmas morning.
The house the girls have dressed up for the season is a dollhouse, consisting of four rooms, two down and two up, more than 120 years old and owned by their grandmother Gail Brown of Bangor. She is a retired teacher who taught and lived for many years in Hampden.
“I like the Christmas tree,” said Anya. “I like the house because it looks real.” The exterior of the house, painted to resemble brickwork, retains its original paint.
“I like how it’s old-fashioned,” said Kali, who takes an interest in the family history.
Kali, dressed in a festive red dress, and Anya in a green and navy plaid dress, and wearing her great-grandmother’s gold bracelet and butterfly necklace, pointed out some of the dollhouse features — the grandfather clock, a rolled up newspaper smaller than the length of a child’s finger, cast iron chairs shaped and stenciled in the Hitchcock style, and miniature landscape paintings created by Gail Brown’s grandfather Albert Hoxie.
Some of the furnishings for the dollhouse were made in the 1940s — the coverlet for the bed, a day bed and an overstuffed chair were created of cardboard and fabric by Gail’s aunt Harriot “Bun” Waldron Nash.
Kali and Anya, the daughters of Win and Wendy Brown of Westford, Mass., are the fifth generation in the Brown family to be introduced to the dollhouse, a family treasure.
The dollhouse had its beginnings in Quincy, Mass., in the late 1880s when it was given to Gail Brown’s grandmother Abigail Waldron, and her four sisters. Abigail was around 6 years old at the time.
“It was a gift to them from their Boston cousins,” Gail said. “It’s a mix of styles from five generations. It has evolved with each generation. It keeps its flair.”
She recalls furnishing the dollhouse with plastic furniture popular in the 1950s. She was 6 years old when she was first introduced to the dollhouse.
Several pieces of the dollhouse furniture, such as the wood-framed, upholstered side chair, hark back to the late-Victorian era when Abigail Waldron and her sisters played with it.
Kali said that when she looks at the dollhouse, she sometimes wonders who was president when the dollhouse was made, a fact she most likely will look up, with help of her grandfather Tom Brown.
“I wonder how many presidents have run the country since the dollhouse was made,” Kali said.
Anya said that when she looks at the dollhouse she thinks about how big it is.
“I think there should be stairs in it [to get to the second floor],” she said.
Gail’s mother, Priscilla Nickerson Hoxie, was around 8 years old when she received the dollhouse in 1920. At that time, dining room furniture in the style of that era was added.
Gail was 6 years old when she was given the dollhouse in the 1940s. Her father, Elwood Hoxie, made the living room fireplace and her grandmother’s youngest sister made curtains for the dollhouse. The curtains currently hanging in the dollhouse bedroom are made of the eyelet lace edging from a petticoat once worn by hus-band Tom Brown’s great-grandmother.
In the late 1970s, Gail’s daughter, Jill Brown Roberts, who lives in Kanapolis, N.C., became the owner of the dollhouse. During her tenure as housekeeper, wallpaper and new curtains were added.
Some of the dollhouse furnishings are contemporary, gifts from friends or purchased locally at a shop specializing in dollhouses.
The dollhouse has never had electricity installed, although Gail said she once thought about it, before dismissing the idea.
“It’s fascinating to see another generation play with the doll house, to use their imagination and enjoy the old things. It tells the story of our family. It’s important to keep handing it on,” Gail said.