The more things change …

Published 9:52 pm Friday, January 21, 2011

With its peeling and chipped paint, its buckled and worn carpets and mismatched drapes and the wall whose horizontal crack would normally raise concerns about structural soundness, the house appears in need of a major renovation.

Like many homes that were built late in the 19th century, though, its exterior and the finishing touches in its interior were once considered first-rate for a home of its size. Front-porch columns support a second-floor covered balcony with its own columns and ornate rail. Inside, chair rails adorn the walls, a small mantel sits above a tiny fireplace and a steep staircase leads one to the living area upstairs.

But nobody has been inside the house since at least 1961, when it was donated to the Valentine Museum in Richmond. And recently, this dollhouse was returned to Suffolk, where historians believe it was built for Bess “Bessie” Holland Creekmore, daughter of former congressman Col. E.E. Holland.

Email newsletter signup

Nobody’s quite sure whether the house was built to resemble a home that existed in Suffolk at the time or if it was entirely the result of architectural fantasy. In fact, folks don’t know much at all about the dollhouse, other than the fact that it was sent to the Valentine Museum by Ms. Creekmore, who had married a man from New Orleans and moved away from Virginia long before deciding to send the house back to the Old Dominion in 1961.

Historians tell us 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.

And, for now at least, that’s about it. But looking at the house in its new home on top of a table at the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society’s Bank Street headquarters, not far from where the Holland family lived in 1890, it’s not hard to imagine a little girl with little dolls playing house in the midst of a bustling city preparing itself for the turn of the century. It’s a pretty good bet that somewhere in Suffolk today, some other little girl is doing the same thing.

We often hear from historians about how things have changed through the years. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to see just how much has remained the same.