History comes alive in miniature fashion

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LARAINE WESCHLER A scene inside the 1935 miniature mansion that is the center of the Naugatuck Historical Society’s latest exhibit.
NAUGATUCK — It’s a little girl’s dream, eighteen rooms of miniature tables and chairs, bookcases, tiny lamps and family portraits on the walls.

Next week, the Naugatuck Historical Society will unveil a Depression-era replica of elegance most people could only dream of.
The dollhouse was built in 1935 by the same architect that built the mansion the miniature house mimics, according to Leslie Ramatowski, administrative assistant at the Historical Society Museum.

W.J. Magin and Co. built the house at 17 Beacher Street in Naugatuck in 1929 in the English Cotswold style. It still exists today.
The dollhouse was originally a gift from Lewis A. Dibble, then head of Risdon Manufacturing, to his youngest daughter, Nancy, on the occasion of her fifth birthday.

According to Mary Cay Hill, who donated the house to the society, the gift was supposed to be a surprise for Nancy, but the little girl spied the men taking the dollhouse into their mansion while she was supposed to be napping in her upstairs bedroom.
The Dibbles were well-known in Naugatuck as a generous and wealthy family, according to Hill.

“My mother loved Mr. Dibble. He was good to his employees,” Ramatowski said. Dibble’s company made fancy cosmetic cases for some of the nation’s top cosmetic companies. The historical society has hundreds of rhinestone-covered lipstick cases in its stocks, Ramatowski said. During World War II, the Risdon turned its lipstick cases into bullets, she said.

“There was never a union in the shop, basically because they treated [their employees] well,” Ramatowski said.

Even though the dollhouse was a gift from her father, Nancy had collected furnishings on shopping trips to New York with her mother, Hill said.

When Hill purchased the 6.5 foot-long dollhouse in 1983, most of the furniture was original, but she collected some period pieces over the years to replace those that were missing.

“I have always loved dollhouses,” Hill said.

She got her first one as a Christmas present in 1939 and became interested in older, vintage houses as an adult.

When Mrs. Dibble died in 1983, the family home and all its contents were sold.

Hill went to the sale to look at the dollhouse. Her husband remembered the dollhouse from when he was playmates with Nancy in grade school, Hill said.

While standing in line at the sale, other women told Hill how they still remembered when the Dibble family brought the magnificent dollhouse to Salem School for the children to enjoy during Christmas.

When Hill saw the dollhouse, she fell in love.

She brought it back to her house and set about replacing some missing furniture.

“I kind of considered myself a custodian,” Hill said.

When Hill and her husband moved to Florida a few months ago, they decided to leave the dollhouse behind in Naugatuck.

“I feel that that’s where it belongs,” Hill said. Ramatowski said she and the others at the Historical Society Museum enjoyed putting the dollhouse together.

“We were like little kids, having so much fun doing this,” Ramatowski said.

The museum will unveil the dollhouse on Feb. 13 from 1-3 p.m. Admission is $5 for non-members. Members are free.

“It’s going to be worth it for anyone who loves dollhouses,” Ramatowski said.