- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Clement’s Island Museum’s annual Christmas Doll and Train Exhibit, now in its 27th year, offers winter visitors a look back in time before cellphones, computers and video games, back to “Life in the Good Old Days.”
The exhibits are on display through New Year’s Eve at the St. Mary’s County museum along the Potomac River.
“We mix dolls and trains because they have been traditional favorites of children over the years,” said Christina Barbour, site supervisor at the museum.
This year there are 246 dolls displayed, she said.
Margaret Hammett, Linda Neely and other toy collectors have a chance each winter to show off their passions to an audience beyond just their immediate friends and family.
“My grandfather [Joseph P. Singer] built it in 1932 for my mother,” Hammett said. She took over the doll house in 2001 and with the help of her husband, Anthony Hammett, gave it a substantial three-month renovation, including a new paint job and refurbished floors and shingles.
Her husband even added a new deck to the outside, building it with hand-drilled holes and toothpicks.
The Hammetts, who live across the street from the museum, kept the doll house in their spare bedroom for their young grandchildren to play with. Soon after the house rehab, they displayed it at the museum, complete with Christmas scenes that now include four decorated trees, stockings by the fireplace and more.
“It’s been quite a pleasure to share it with as many people as can now see it,” she said.
The couple also donated some of the trains on display at the museum.
There are several different scale models up and running for visitors to enjoy. One has a complete Christmas scene complementing the track, while another is made to look eerily familiar with replicas of St. Mary’s landmarks. Visitors can learn a bit of history about St. Mary’s County’s own railroad that once ran from its northern border down to Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Lexington Park.
Neely joined the Southern Maryland Doll Club soon after it began in 1976. It currently has about 15 members, she said.
The Black-eyed Susan Doll Club, which has about 21 members, formed as an offshoot of the other club in the mid-1980s, she said.
Several women, including Neely are members of both clubs, which meet at the Charlotte Hall library.
She said the museum offers a great opportunity for members to display their dolls to a larger audience, and that children and adults alike can admire the precious collections.
She said she personally owns well more than 500 dolls, as do many of the other members.
“Some of them are very small,” she said, adding that collecting only life-sized dolls would take up far too much room.
Many of the dolls displayed this year belong to Neely, drawing from her large collection of early 20th-century lifelike replicas. They are displayed along side old toys, including the games Alley Oop and Tinkertoys, to old play cooking stoves and a toy laundry set complete with a washboard and clothesline.
“We all have something that we consider especially prized,” she said, adding that for some it is a childhood heirloom while for others it may be a very valuable doll. Dolls can fetch tens of thousands of dollars or even more for the most rare and oldest.
Within the local clubs, the oldest dolls include some with heads made from China that date back to the Civil War period, she said.
Even the miniature Blackistone Lighthouse replica received a winter makeover for the event. Figures are set up around the miniature along with several passages from Dr. Joseph McWilliams’ diary about ice skating or gathering block ice for storage.
There are several toys on display for children to try out, including a rag doll, Jacob’s ladder toy and a cup and ball catch toy.
“Children seem to have fun with them,” and are often mesmerized in play with the simple, old-fashioned toys, Barbour said.
In addition to the doll and trains on display, the Crab Claw Museum Store will be open with an array of gifts, including home decor, books and jewelry, much of which highlights St. Mary’s heritage. Kids crafts also are offered in the Old Red Schoolhouse on the museum property, allowing kids to make period art projects like snowflakes and paper-ring chains.