EXETER’S EARLY DAYS
By Chris Brewer
(continued from last issue)
The Hilliard House was still standing when Visalia resident Howard Hill recreated it as a 1:12 scale dollhouse.
Miniature Gazette, the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts (N.A.M.E.) magazine, ran a cover story about Hill’s company, The One of a Kind Wood Shop, in its fall 1982 issue.
Excerpted from the Miniature Gazette article:
“Visalia woodworker Howard Hill used to drive by the old Hilliard House out on Mineral King Highway all the time and like most people who did so, was enamored by the quaint old Victorian house standing out there alone, with its out-buildings and barn.
“By 1974, Howard and his wife, Gloria, thought they could make a go of a gift shop and opened The One of a Kind Wood Shop in Visalia. The shop was essentially just a showroom with all sorts of wooden items, from salad bowls and snack tables to carvings and chess sets. After a period of time, they started getting requests for other items and started carrying a line of dollhouse kits. The kits were quaint and cute, but they were not close to being collector’s items…
“As time went on, miniature furniture and accessories were appearing throughout the store. Then one day, a local service club that Mrs. Hill belonged to decided to design and build a custom dollhouse as a raffle prize for a charity fund raiser. With a lot of help from Mr. Hill, this was quite successful.
“By the time a year had rolled around, and the club was ready for another dollhouse, the Hills had decided to conduct a dollhouse design and construction class. The idea being that Howard would build a house along with the class, and it would be donated to the club, for the raffle. The house that Mr. Hill had decided to create was inspired by a lovely old Victorian house located nearby (the Hilliard House).
“Howard Hill had driven past the picturesque mansion hundreds of times, never failing to detect the subtle beauty and grace of the house peeking out from beneath the hovering ancient shade trees, which seem to be shielding the house from the prying eyes of highway travelers. Lodged in Howard’s subconscious was the design, shape and style of architecture of the charming house…
“The first ‘Visalian’ miniature house was built through a joint effort between Howard and Gloria Hill and a class of 16 miniature enthusiasts…
“Because of the difficulty and investment of time involved in building an original miniature house without a kit, Howard worked up a ‘Visalian’ kit, containing all the pre-cut pieces needed to assemble the framework of the house. The trimmings to the ‘Visalian’ such as shingles, molding, brickwork, electrical wiring and interior decorations are all purchased extra. It is conceivable that by the time a hobbyist completes his own version of the ‘Visalian,’ he could spend $600.
“The Visalian’s first appearance was in the San Francisco Gift Show in February of 1979 … The response to the house was so overwhelming, the Hills rushed home and wrote an instruction book complete with step-by-step pictures, had it printed and the house kits shipped within two weeks. By April of that year, they had an extensive line of moldings and trims along with a printed catalog of their products.”
The article went on to explain that the manufacturing of miniature parts overwhelmed the woodshop gift shop to a point that by January 1, 1982, the One of a Kind Wood Shop ceased carrying kits and closed its doors for the last time. They then concentrated on manufacturing quality miniature products.
In 1981, the Visalian dollhouse was listed in the 4th Edition of the Miniatures Catalog, with a suggested retail price of $325 for the kit and $500 for the assembled shell. By 1983, the prices had increased to $379 for the kit and $540 for the shell. Two years later, the Visalian had disappeared from the catalog.
I appreciate the effort of several people in finding this history for us. Susan Head compiled it from the many sources and also most kindly donated the dollhouse to us.Debbie Young, who taught a class at the miniature store in Visalia, also came up with information and constructed a quarter-inch scale version of the house. Judy Lewin, who owned Mill Creek Miniatures in Visalia prior to moving to Illinois, was also involved, as were Howard and Gloria Hill, who first designed and built it.