Mini-history lesson: Local miniature museum seeks photos, stories about building from ’30s
Now that she’s created the right space for the project, the curator of The Great American Dollhouse Museum is ready to move forward with a pictorial history of the building. However, she needs the public’s help.
Lori Kagan-Moore is issuing a call for photographs and anecdotes about the museum’s building at 307 N. Sixth St., built in 1939. She bought it with her husband Patrick in 2006.
“Since we’re on the verge of its 10th anniversary, we plan to create an exhibit of photographs and stories detailing the building’s rich and varied history,” Kagan-Moore said. The museum was opened in 2008, after they renovated it “from the ground up in compliance with state code.”
Why this location
The Kagan-Moores say they were drawn to the building for several reasons. They knew they wanted something in Danville, as a contribution to a town they love, and particularly wanted to support the downtown area.
Patrick Kagan-Moore says downtown Danville is special, and worth preserving and enhancing.
“Downtowns in this country face very real challenges with competition from chain stores and restaurants, businesses on bypasses, and internet enterprises,” he said.
So, they searched for an existing structure, in order to repurpose rather than create new construction.
They refer to the building as having been “the one true orphan, being unoccupied and never before brought up to Frankfort code.” They also liked the idea of renovating in hopes of contributing to an economically challenged neighborhood.
“Patrons ask us about the building’s history,” Lori Kagan-Moore says — they’re often fascinated by the museum’s 20-foot arched ceilings and steel bowstring trusses. She says the structure was built under the Works Progress Administration in 1939, and she’s done plenty of homework to figure it all out.
Kagan-Moore says its first use was to actually house the WPA; then, it was a National Guard Armory. She cites a 1948 Advocate-Messenger article that says Battery A, 441st Field Artillery moved into the building that year. It was later owned by the City of Danville; then by William “Bunny” Davis, used by his family as a moving and storage company; and in 1982, Ben Sochaki bought the building to accommodate his carpentry business.
“After the renovation, we added several sets of gothic lights, salvaged from the renovations of various local churches. They add a warmth and charm that reflects the age of the building,” Lori Kagan-Moore said. She’s always wanted to have a pictorial history of the building on display, but has only recently created the right space for it.
She says the museum has been thriving in its historic warehouse on Sixth Street. “We’ve received numerous awards and honors,” she says. In 2002, the museum was designated as No. 13 on the “There’s Only One” map of Kentucky, a list of attractions unique to only Kentucky. National coverage of the attraction has ranged from pictorials in “Country Living” to an episode of “Shipping Wars” on the A&E network.
Lori Kagan-Moore says they take on two or three major projects for new exhibits each year.
“We’ve always focused on U.S. social history, but we began to expand into exhibits specifically about Kentucky,” she says, including a rural farm scene depicting the state in 1910, with cabins, a barn, livestock and blacksmith shop. There’s also a tobacco warehouse with an auction in progress.
“We invited Jerry Rankin, whose family is well-known for its history in tobacco production, to consult with Lincoln artist Bernadine Austin while she created mini tobacco baskets filled with tiny tobacco hands,” she says. “He helped us until we achieved a perfect realism with the baskets and the leaves, and we are grateful for his time. We have been very fortunate to have Ms. Austin, who is not only a gifted artist but also grew and raised tobacco herself.”
The latest addition will be a coal mining camp, a project slated for completion late this year. It will include miner’s shacks, a company store and foreman’s house, community creek and mountain landscaping, by Alabama artist Alma Kiss who is the museum’s artist-in-residence.
The project planned to detail the building’s history is planned to be completed later this year, too. Lori Kagan-Moore hopes to showcase all the various uses and owners of the now-museum from its almost 80 years of existence.
“We’d really love people to call us, or bring in photographs and stories from its early days. We won’t keep anyone’s original photos, of course. We can get them copied and returned to them, or we will even copy them while they’re still here, if they’d rather not let their photos out of their sights.”
She’s grateful for the help and support the museum has received from the community over the past years.
“And we will appreciate enormously any contributions of photos and anecdotes we can obtain.”
“The Great American Dollhouse Museum” on Facebook
SO YOU KNOW
• If anyone has any information, photos or stories about the building that The Great American Dollhouse Museum is in at 307 N. 6th St. and they’d like to share, they can call (859) 236-1883 or email Lori@TheDollhouseMuseum.com, or stop by in person 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.
• The museum will be featured on the July 12 special section of “99 Days of Summer” through The Kentucky Department of Tourism’s campaign, found at kentuckytourism.com/99days. The department encourages travelers to use #kysummer when sharing their Kentucky travel adventures on social media.
• Curator Lori Kagan-Moore says many people don’t know the focus of the “Dollhouse Museums” is not dolls; it is furnished, detailed miniature buildings. “I think the name misleads them; the museum is composed of historical towns and neighborhoods full of surprising detail. in addition to miniatures collectors, it draws history buffs, and men as well as women.”
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