The Hamilton family owned the “Big House” across the street, which they built sometime in the 1890s. When Centerville’s Evelyn Crosby approached Dan Ham’s grandmother, Juliet Ector Orr Munsell, about purchasing the land that would soon become the playhouse, the buyer didn’t hesitate. Twenty-eight thousand dollars later, the land was hers and she decided to build a $50,000 playhouse for young Dan Ham, the beloved child of her daughter, Margaret Munsell Hamilton.
Jane Hamilton, Dan Ham’s wife, likens the playhouse’s construction to building a big family room—it was simply an extension of the big house across the street. Jane notes playhouses were common at the time. “That was their only entertainment then,” she says. Dan’s mother, Margaret, fashioned herself as something of an actress, and she and the children presented complimentary productions to family members and close friends throughout the 1920s.
Today, playhouses are rare, and virtually none feature such an abundance of original décor in excellent condition. Although Jane and her son, Heyward, who is the owner of the property, hate to part with the playhouse, they have decided to put it on the market. The family is asking $1.59 million for the playhouse and surrounding buildings, including an artist’s studio, and a private boathouse. Several people have shown interest, but no offers had been accepted as this issue went to press. “The people who know art go crazy over it,” says Jane. Everything in the playhouse was specially crafted by master artisans from New York’s Greenwich Village, creating a completely unique, fairy tale atmosphere.
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