120-year-old dollhouse returns

Published 10:32 pm Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dollhouse: Historian Sue Woodward admires the 1890’s dollhouse that she brought to the Dawson House from Richmond. The dollhouse originated in Suffolk and was given to the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society by the Valentine Richmond History Center this week.

Its white paint is chipped inside and out. One interior wall is cracked, carpet is rising from the wood floors and even the curtains are mismatched.

But the important thing is that the 120-year-old house is back home.

The smaller-than-life dollhouse actually seems quite imposing on a table in the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society headquarters, towering over volunteer Sue Woodward as she points out its features. Woodward is glad that the dollhouse is back in Suffolk, where it was originally built. She believes it was constructed for a little girl who lived just down the street from the society’s headquarters on Bank Street.

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Woodward believes the dollhouse was built for Bess “Bessie” Holland Creekmore, daughter of former congressman Col. E.E. Holland. It was Creekmore who sent the house to the Valentine Richmond History Center in Richmond in the 1960s.

“The only thing that makes us think it is her dollhouse is that it was built in the 1890s, at around the time when she was born,” Woodward said.

Woodward and Lee King, another member of the historical society and curator of Riddick’s Folly, went to Richmond this week to pick up the dollhouse and its accessories. The Valentine Richmond History Center originally contacted Lee King at Riddick’s Folly, but the dollhouse did not suit Riddick’s Folly’s mission as it focuses primarily on the mid-19th century. The focus of the Richmond museum is primarily Richmond history, so the dollhouse did not suit its mission either.

According to preliminary local history gathered by the historical society, Bess Holland was born to Col. E.E. Holland and Otelia Lee Holland, who lived at 216 Bank St. Bess’s father was a congressman and the president of Farmer’s Bank of Nansemond, located where the SunTrust Bank now stands. Bess also had a brother named Lee Pretlow Holland.

Bess later married E. Fitzgerald Creekmore from New Orleans.

She restored and furnished the dollhouse before writing to the Richmond Museum in October 1961. She explained that her original intention was to give the refurbished dollhouse to a children’s hospital.

The hospital, however, could not accept the dollhouse as it was already overcrowded, explains Creekmore’s letter. Further, she said, “The Board of Directors told me it was much too nice for children to play with.”

A friend suggested that the Valentine Richmond History Center might be interested in the dollhouse.

Creekmore provided the Richmond museum with a number of accessories for the dollhouse and instructions on where to place each accessory. She added that she felt the dollhouse should be back in its home state of Virginia.

Woodward said the historical society hopes to uncover more information about the dollhouse owner, her husband and her family.

Woodward added that the society does not know exactly what its plans are for the house, but said it likely will remain at its Bank Street headquarters, known as the Dawson House.

“The Dawson House is a good match for it, because it started life here on Bank Street, apparently,” Woodward said.