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Daughter finishes dad’s work on dollhouse, donates to historical society

  • Ralph Van Horn spent his free time building tiny Colonial-style dollhouse furniture, some of which has working drawers.

  • Images of a 1700s colonial-style dollhouse created by generations of the Van Horn family of Pittsfield. The house is on display in the Epsom Public Library on an extended loan. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Images of a 1700s colonial-style dollhouse created by generations of the Van Horn family of Pittsfield. The house is on display in the Epsom Public Library on an extended loan. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Christina Van Horn and her husband built the house in a Colonial style and furnished it with carpets, wallpaper and more that would have fit with the time period.

  • Images of a 1700s colonial-style dollhouse created by generations of the Van Horn family of Pittsfield. The house is on display in the Epsom Public Library on an extended loan. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • The Van Horn family’s dollhouse is on display in the Epsom Public Library on an extended loan. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

  • Images of a 1700s colonial-style dollhouse created by generations of the Van Horn family of Pittsfield. The house is on display in the Epsom Public Library on an extended loan. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Images of a 1700s colonial-style dollhouse created by generations of the Van Horn family of Pittsfield. The house is on display in the Epsom Public Library on an extended loan. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Images of a 1700s colonial-style dollhouse created by generations of the Van Horn family of Pittsfield. The house is on display in the Epsom Public Library on an extended loan. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Images of a 1700s colonial-style dollhouse created by generations of the Van Horn family of Pittsfield. The house is on display in the Epsom Public Library on an extended loan. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Images of a 1700s colonial-style dollhouse created by generations of the Van Horn family of Pittsfield. The house is on display in the Epsom Public Library on an extended loan. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Christina Van Horn stands next to the four-story 1700s colonial-style dollhouse she and members of her family put together over several years. The house is on an extended loan at the Epsom Public Library. Caitlin Andrews photos / Monitor staff

  • Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Christina Van Horn stands next to the four-story 1700s colonial-style dollhouse she and members of her family put together over several years. The house is on an extended loan at the Epsom Public Library. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Christina Van Horn stands next to the four-story 1700s colonial-style dollhouse she and members of her family put together over several years. The house is on an extended loan at the Epsom Public Library. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Christina Van Horn stands next to the four-story 1700s colonial-style dollhouse she and members of her family put together over several years. The house is on an extended loan at the Epsom Public Library. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Saturday, June 17, 2017

A 1700s colonial-style dollhouse more than 30 years in the making is now on display at the Epsom Public Library.

Christina Van Horn, originally of Pittsfield but now living in Concord, said her father, Ralph Van Horn, never set out to make a dollhouse – but he loved crafts, and had a particular fondness for the historical buildings of Portsmouth. So for three decades, the former Merrimack Valley art teacher spent some of his free time constructing dollhouse furniture from 1:12-inch scale kits. 

And when the time came, Ralph passed some of his furniture on to Van Horn, who decided the best way to use the pieces would be to construct an open dollhouse with her then-husband Dana Milner. The result is a four-story miniature that is both historically accurate and unique among dollhouses, as most are modeled in a Victorian fashion, Van Horn said. 

“All the drawers open and close,” Van Horn said, running her fingers over a dresser. “And the canopy on the bed? That’s made from a nightgown my grandmother had saved from the 19th century.”

Van Horn said the project was quite the family affair: All the furniture was made by her father, who passed away in 2012. Some of the pillows were crafted by her grandmother, and the furniture that appear in the house’s attic – which does not go with the house’s time period – was given to Van Horn over the years.

And then there was Christina’s contributions: over a two-year period, Christina bought and installed all the house’s wallpaper, flooring, siding, shingles, and small, but historically important pieces, like windows and door knobs and fireplaces. Van Horn also included an image of the Warner House in Portsmouth that she hand-stitched long before the project began.

Her husband constructed the frame and electrified the house, allowing many of the light fixtures to work. Except for one in particular: a handmade German chandelier that is not period-specific, but was so charming Van Horn knew she had to have it. With a price tag of $130, it’s one of the pricier items in the house, but like building any home, cost was to be expected, Van Horn said.

“I probably dropped $200 to $300 every time I walked into the dollhouse store,” she said. 

Other details, such as aspects of the house’s landscaping, are not quite New England-specific, as the store Van Horn visited in California was both a model train store and a dollhouse supply store. But a birdhouse was created by Gilbert Page, a former Pittsfield resident, and the intricate rugs one can see in each room were donated by Pittsfield Weaving Company, a former clothes tag supply company.

Getting the details right wasn’t always easy. Van Horn admitted that certain pieces, like building the staircase and applying the shingles, made her want to tear her hair out. But perfectionism is something her family believes in.

“We had strong artistic leaning and a great interest in the 17th and 18th century here,” she said. “And we all picked up a lot of knowledge from my father, who seemed to be the driving force behind all this.”

It wasn’t long after her father passed away in 2012 that Van Horn knew she had to come home to be with her mother, who was 87 at the time. She knew, too, that the house belonged in a place where others could appreciate it. Eventually, the house will move to the Pittsfield Historical Society.

“It’s what (my father) would have wanted,” Van Horn said, sitting in the Epsom library. “Ralph was always a patron here, and he would come in and talk to the workers about the dollhouse. So when I asked them if they would like to have it on display, they were excited – they’d been hearing about it for years.”

Later, she added: “My father’s spirit is definitely alive with all his furniture. He would be greatly pleased to know that it’s here and that it’s going to the Pittsfield Historical Society. That’s really where it belongs.”