The model train exhibit at the Middlebury Community Historical Museum was only supposed to be around a few months. That plan changed.
“That was so successful, so popular, we used up half a year extending it,” Museum director Richard Smith said of the model train show. “We wanted something as much fun for the next exhibit.”
With a little brainstorming, Smith and museum volunteers decided a display of antique and vintage toys could prove to be as popular as the model trains.
“This isn’t just a random bunch of toys, but some serious collections from Middlebury families,” Smith said.
One crowd-pleaser greets visitors the minute they enter the museum — a stately Victorian dollhouse with carefully and intricately decorated rooms.
“Beverly Miller let us borrow this for the exhibit,” Smith said. “Her son-in-law built the house, her daughter wallpapered and painted the rooms and Beverly decorated it. It’s pretty detailed. There’s little set of dentures in the bathroom and dirty dish in the kitchen sink waiting to be washed.”
Local resident Karen Wesdorp’s collection of vintage toys from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s includes a popcorn machine that she and her brother remember using often as young children.
There’s a Ken and Barbie collection with Skipper (Barbie’s younger sister) sitting in a very rare car that came as part of a set.
“It’s pretty neat. It’s a convertible Nash-Healy made in the early 1950s,” Smith said. The Nash-Healy is the first post-war sports car from a major American automaker.
Several toys in the collection on display from the Vernon Miller family are standouts, according to Smith.
“There’s a nice stereoscope (think View-Master) by Holmes,” Smith said. “That’s Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., the American poet, author and professor.”
Below the stereoscope is one of Smith’s favorite toys in the exhibit.
“It’s called a Sandy Andy and I think it’s one of the neatest toys here,” Smith said. “The weight of the sand pouring into the bucket causes the arm to swing out and dump the sand and then the arm swings back in to get another load. There are no batteries, there’s nothing to wind up. It moves with the shift in weight.”
Another case displays model cars, including several made in Indiana. Smith is particularly impressed with the 1948 Tucker. Only 51 Tuckers rolled off the assembly line before the company folded in 1949.
Two of the museum’s largest cases are dedicated to at least 100 model International Harvester and John Deere tractors. A smaller case around the corner from the tractors houses part of the toy collection of Rex and Nancy Gleim, all the items carefully chosen by their 5-year-old grandson, Brendan.
The Isabelle Miller family collection includes steel-stamped toy soldiers from the World War I era and a Bye Lo doll, the first realistic baby doll made in the United States. The doll, created by Grace Story Putnam in 1922 and modeled after a 3-month old, was given to Isabelle in 1927.
In addition to the toy exhibit, the museum is featuring the latest works of artist and Middlebury resident Mabel Nisley. Nisley has art degrees from Goshen College and the University of Notre Dame. She taught art at Bethany Christian for 24 years.
The works on display in the museum are eggshell mosaics.
“She first draws the design, applies each individual piece of eggshell with a toothpick and a dab of glue, and then paints the shells,” Smith said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
If you want to go
The Middlebury Community Historical Museum is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is no admission charge.