Toys for All Ages, on Display
The NC Museum of Dolls, Toys & Miniatures preserves treasures from the pastBy Scott Gates
If you had a beloved toy growing up (and who of us didn’t) — maybe a well-loved doll or go-to truck — chances are there’s a version of it safely curated at the NC Museum of Dolls, Toys & Miniatures in Spencer. Co-founder Susan Lane Morris admits it’s fairly common for visitors to light up at the sight of a long-forgotten toy found in one of its many display cases.
“So many come in and find things from their childhood — it’s so wonderful to see,” she says.
Morris and her daughter and co-founder Beth Morris Nance opened the nonprofit museum in June 2012, starting with a collection of model trains, trucks and airplanes, as well as a beautifully kept collection of ornate Barbie dolls from Morris’ daughter, Amy. Amy’s collection served as an inspiration for the museum, and reflects a passion for life she displayed throughout years of coping with a terminal illness.
An ever-growing collection
The museum has since blossomed, filling a 4,000-square-foot space in downtown Spencer with an ever-expanding collection of vintage toys. The collection, built through donations, has grown to a size where exhibits now have to be rotated through the space.
“My favorite thing about the museum is knowing that those who donate to the museum’s permanent collection will always have their legacy continue on,” Nance says. “The museum is such a special place, and remembering those who came before us is an honor and a privilege.”
Exhibits include dollhouses, dolls, trains, trucks, airplanes, board games and specialty toys, including Girl Scout and Boy Scout branded items. Miniature soldiers recreate scenes from the Civil War and the Battle of Waterloo. More than 100 Shirley Temple dolls comprise one of the largest of such collections in the Eastern United States, and a rare collection of 1910 Schoenhut circus figurines is carefully staged under a sprawling big top.
A model train village takes up most of the rear section of the museum — it took removing front windows to move the display in — populated by Lionel trains with flourishes like a flowing waterfall, working lighthouse and other surprises. Detailed model airplanes hang overhead, suspended mid-flight over the train table.
More than a museum
Beyond a space for curating vintage toys, the museum has become a hub of activity in the community, bringing new life to a building that previously housed both a package store and a hardware store. The space has become a venue for benefit sales, workshops, book signings and tea parties, just to name a few.
The museum has partnered with Salisbury-based Rowan Museum for “Night at the Museums” events (inspired by the movies), and other partnerships help keep the space thriving.
“We partner with individuals as well as doll, toy and miniature clubs across the United States in order to maintain rotating exhibits and special displays,” Nance explains. “Partnerships are very important to the success of the museum.”
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