After the death of their daughter Anna Alida Yates in 1834, Governor Joseph Yates and Elizabeth De Lancey Yates accepted their two young grandchildren into their home in Schenectady. Making the children feel at home and welcome in a new place at a very sad time in their lives must have been a very pressing issue for the grandparents as they prepared for the arrival of their young charges. Although nothing written survives to give insight into the feelings shared by the Yates, an amazing artifact in our collection gives tangible testament to the love and concern they must have felt for their grandchildren they struggled to make a new home in Schenectady. The Yates’ Dollhouse is a one-of-a-kind toy that most children during that era could never dream of owning. Built in 1834, the same year that Anna passed away and her children Susan and John came to live with their grandparents, the dollhouse is one of the oldest in New York State and one of the most intact.
Through a valiant effort by then curator Marilyn Sassi and board member Kati Kindl, the dollhouse was conserved by the Cooperstown Graduate Program for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in 1981. Since that time, the dollhouse has had a home in one of upstairs exhibit spaces but until recently, has been in dire need of fresh cleaning, not to mention documentation of the artifacts. Our inventory volunteers spent three weeks inventorying, cleaning, photographing and, mylaring (yes, a new word) each miniature artifact before re-situating each room (thank you Ann-Marie, Mona, Alan, David and, Phil!). The dollhouse looks wonderful and really deserves some young visitors! It has also brought to our attention the need for a proper enclosure to both protect the artifact while allowing as much visibility as possible and (according to more than one young dollhouse enthusiast, and a few old ones!) the need for a replica dollhouse that was hands on. We will work on both improvements (with any help always appreciated!) in the next year but for the time being, come enjoy the newly cleaned Yates’ Dollhouse and while marveling at the detail and skill used to build and paint it, reflect on how this one artifact is really our only documentation of a grandparent’s love for their grandchildren in a time of difficulty.