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Taking a Trip Through Time with Treasured Toys
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jan 2, 2013, 12:31

photo by Caitlin Davis These worn, fabric dolls are estimated to date back to 1895.

As children unwrapped presents under the Christmas tree last week, some of them were unwrapping objects that will become history to future generations.

Some of those treasured pieces of childhoods past are on display in Prince George County for a few more days. Toys from all different centuries and all different segments of the community are crowded into the lobby of the Prince George Regional Heritage Center for the annual Toys of Yesteryear exhibit.

Carol Bowman, Executive Director of the Heritage Center, said the toys go from antique to unique.

“Every year we try to do an exhibit on vintage toys from the county and every year we get different things that are contributed to this exhibit,” Bowman said. “This year we have some really different things, like the hand carved toys.”

On a nearby table sat a hand carved train set, crane and dollhouse, all made by Prince George resident, Gerald Koren.

“These are not antique, but they are unique,” Bowman said. “Look at the detail.”

Bowman said the dollhouse, made by Koren for his wife, has portraits of the couples great-grandchildren hanging in one of its rooms.

“There’s a lot of love in that dollhouse,” Bowman said.

The exhibit also includes German toys from the 1920s, books, cars, trucks, stuffed animals and fabric dolls dating back to 1895.

The dolls were donated by Molly Eva Gray and are one of Bowman’s favorite parts of the exhibit. She said Gray found the dolls in her attic in a black satchel.

“They have been in there for a long time,” Bowman explained, looking at the dolls. “In fact, the family didn’t even know they were there.”

Bowman has imagined possible histories for the dolls, noting that Molly could have been a child sitting beside her mother as she was sewing, making dolls out of scraps of leftover fabric.

“This is probably the most unique thing we have here this year,” Bowman said.

The toys provided a history lesson for some and brought back memories for others, including Bowman.

She recalled a “Tiny Tears” doll, dating back to the 1950s.

“Each of these toys tells a story,” Bowman said, lifting up another baby doll donated by a member of the community. The doll was used by former Prince George High School home economics teacher, Lilly Rice. Sitting beside the doll is a note, in which Rice passes on the doll to her predecessor, Amelia Langford. Bowman surmised the doll was used in home economics class in 1924 to teach the students how to care for a baby.

“She made sure this doll would be put into the hands of a former student who she knew would take care of it,” Bowman said.

Walking from table to table were Alyssa and Hallie Wiles, of Matoaca, Perrin Smith, of Matoaca and their grandmother, Linda Miller, of Prince George.
photo by Caitlin Davis Carol Bowman gives Alyssa and Hallie Wiles and Perrin Smith a tour of the exhibit.

Miller said she was enjoying the opportunity to teacher her grandchildren about the kind of toys she played with a s a child.

“I like taking them to educational things,” Miller said. “They had never been here before and I wanted to bring them up here and show them what toys were like back at Christmas many years ago.”

Miller noted her grandmother had a hand carved train set just like the one Koren made when she was growing up.

Hallie said her favorite part of the display was the vintage peddle car, which Bowman said was found in a barn in Prince George.

“I have lots of cars,” Hallie said.

Alyssa enjoyed Koren’s dollhouse, which she said was “cool.”

Smith could not pick a favorite toy.

“I liked every single one,” Smith said.

Bowman is already getting ready for next year’s exhibit, reminding current and former residents to check their attics. The Heritage Center starts receiving toys the week after Thanksgiving and staff starts putting the display in place during the week of the county’s annual parade and the tree lighting.

Bowman said the display is one of her favorites, year after year.

“As I look back, it is really remarkable,” she said. “It’s a special celebration of the season. We’ve all had toys of one kind or another, so I think it’s neat to look back and see what kinds of things people grew up with.”

The 75 toys donated by almost 30 current and former county residents will be up until Jan. 6.

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