I still remember fondly the year that my dad made me a dollhouse for my birthday. It was a kit, but I still was able to personalize colors, flooring and wallpaper. It was a simple two-story Cape Cod-style house with four rooms, and it was perfect. I enjoyed decorating the interior of my dollhouse more than I think I ever played with it.
The same can be said for this dollhouse made by William and Joan Fancher.
The La Crosse County Historical Society has a few dollhouses in its collections, but this one is by far the most extravagant. William followed a plan, but he made everything on his own. He spent 1,440 hours (about two months time) making the dollhouse. There are 2,250 handmade shingles and individual floorboards. Joan did all of the needlework in the house, including wall hangings and rugs.
Joan designed her dollhouse as a tribute to her favorite parts of her own house, as well as those of family members. She chose the Pepperwood Farms plan because it was similar to the home her grandparents had lived in.
The kitchen has bright blue furniture that matches the furniture Joan had in her kitchen. The attic playroom is similar to that of her mother’s cousin’s house, where she loved playing as a child. The dollhouse has a Christmastime theme because that was Joan’s favorite time of the year. A Santa Claus and reindeer decorate the roof, and there are Christmas trees, presents, wreaths, and a Nativity scene throughout the house.
Not only did the couple make the dollhouse, they also kept a scrapbook that detailed each room and where each item was from. Some of the items were given to the Fanchers as gifts from friends’ vacations — a black cat came from Hong Kong, and a small ivory dog was a souvenir from the Holy Land.
The scrapbook contains progress as well as final photos, showing where each item was supposed to be in every room. When the historical society moved, the dollhouse was packed up, room by room, just like a regular house so it’s not presently set-up how the Fanchers had it.
The final pages of their scrapbook serve as a guestbook, recording the names of all the people who came to visit the dollhouse and admire William and Joan’s handiwork. The dollhouse has more than 200 signatures in its guest book.
William Fancher donated the dollhouse to the historical society in 2004, the same year his wife, Joan, died.
What makes dollhouses like this one and the one made by my father special is that they are filled with personalized touches. Each is unique and tells its own story. The Fanchers’ dollhouse tells the story of a husband and wife who worked together, with the help of their friends, to create their “ideal home.” It was a family project that gave them a shared goal and shared pleasure.
This dollhouse and dolls from historical society’s collection can be viewed in our online database.