Dollhouse on the Prairie
A chicken coop becomes a quaint dollhouse.
A collector in Hardesty converted a chicken coop to a beautiful life-size dollhouse for her amazing collection of dolls. Photo by JuliAnn Graham
Eldridge calls the renovated chicken coop her life-size dollhouse.
Around 500 dolls make their home in the dollhouse and another storage building nearby.
Emma Eldridge, a Tri-County Electric Cooperative (TCEC) member and retired schoolteacher who lives in Hardesty, Okla., gets tears in her voice as she talks about her grandmother’s desire to bring her chicken coop to town when she moved off the farm.
“When grandpa passed away in the ‘50s, her boys didn’t want her to stay on the farm,” Eldridge said. “Grandma was always a chicken person. She said if they would move her chicken house into town then she would be glad to move. And so they did.”
The chicken coop was moved from a farm about six miles south of Hooker, Okla., to Hardesty in the 1950s. Then, in 2007, Eldridge, her husband and their son moved the special chicken coop behind their home in Hardesty. They renovated it into a house for her doll collection.
“You’ll notice I carried the chicken theme throughout with the window and the curtain, so the chicken decorations are still there,” Eldridge said. She keeps a photo of her two sisters and herself in the house in a frame with a chicken motif. “I tell people these are the living dolls, my sisters and I.”
Today, Eldridge has around 500 dolls in the dollhouse and another storage building nearby. She calls the renovated chicken coop her life-size dollhouse. Much like the house itself, every doll Eldridge has collected has a story. She helps fabricate those stories when she gets a new doll. They usually don’t have clothes and are often in disrepair. Eldridge will restore the dolls to their original glory, sewing or crocheting them clothes, buying and applying wigs for them, even re-painting their eyes or replacing missing arms and legs if needed.
Eldridge’s dolls come from all over the world. Some are purchased through online auction sites while others are extra special to her because she has purchased them on mission trips through her church, Victory Memorial United Methodist Church in Guymon, Okla. She has been abroad about 12 times on Volunteers in Mission trips. Bolivia, Ukraine, and Africa are a few of the places she has been and acquired dolls. She has also purchased several German dolls from Russell, Kan., and restored them. She pointed out these dolls typically have jointed arms and legs that can be moved.
Her friends understand her passion for dolls. Merlene Jackson of Guymon, also a TCEC member, recently gave Eldridge a doll.
“I acquired a tall, walking-size doll from my aunt after she passed away and I never did have a chance to get it fixed up,” Jackson said. “I knew Emma fixed up dolls so I gave it to her and, oh, she fixed it up beautifully.”
Eldridge said one of her sisters has also purchased dolls for her at auctions.
“Everybody’s always on the lookout for me because they know I do this,” she said.
The dollhouse is more than a storeroom for Eldridge’s dolls. It’s a quiet place for her to put together her jigsaw puzzles, read or sew. She has a collection of vintage books in a restored chicken roost she has converted to a bookcase. She has original Dick and Jane books in the case. She also has several sentimental quilts she has made over the years.
“I learned to read with the Dick and Jane books so I had to have the quilt,” Eldridge said as she held up a quilt with scenes from Dick and Jane reading books for children on one side and text on the other. “I’ve been so fond of those books.”
The life-size dollhouse Eldridge has built brings her closer to her grandmother’s spirit and offers her a place of peace to further her hobby. It’s truly a dollhouse on the prairie.
JuliAnn Graham, a regular Oklahoma Living contributor, is the communications coordinator at TCEC.