Spotlight on Buildings

"Lighthouses in America"

The most famous lighthouse in known history is the "Lighthouse of Alexandria" built in about 280 BC in Egypt. As an architectural structure it was so unique (and tall) that it is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The first lighthouse built in what is now the United States was constructed in Saint Augustine, Florida in 1586. The second was Boston Light on Little Brewster Island in 1716 in outer Boston Harbor, and the oldest working lighthouse, Sandy Hook Lighthouse was built in 1764and is located on the coast of New Jersey. Today lighthouses are maintained by the US Coast Guard as was designated by National Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. This was enacted when the need to maintain lighthouse equipment was lessened by improved navigation of ships.

Architecture for lighthouses vary as much as the locations of the buildings and the available materials for building the tower. Some were built with a home for the lighthouse keeper and his crew. As long as there have been lighthouses, Americans have enjoyed photographing, visiting and collecting replicas of them.

In 2011 Department 56 was proud to introduce three new lighthouse designs that represent three different styles of lighthouses built in coastal areas of the United States: "Snail Point Lighthouse", "Sandy Shoal Lighthouse", and "Dunes Edge Lighthouse." In 2012 we added "Chesapeake Bay Light". We hope you enjoy them all!

So here a trivia question for collectors How many lighthouses have been introduced in our Villages (count only the pieces in Villages that are current)?

(Answer: 17. One in Winter's Frost, Four in Snow Village, Nine in New England Village, Two in Dickens' Village and one in Snow Village Halloween.) There was one introduced for Season's Bay, but that Village is completely retired.)

Little Brown Church in the Vale

"Little Brown Church in the Vale"

When young music teacher, William Pitts, found himself traveling through rural Iowa in 1856 with little to do while the stage coach horses were being watered, he stretched his legs while wandering down Center Street. He was struck by a beautiful little wooded glen, and his imagination went to work. He pictured a small church on the vacant lot and wrote a poem that was later set to music. The song "Church In The Wildwood" was filed away and quickly forgotten until several years later when Pitts and his wife returned to the area where he taught at the Bradford Academy.

Imagine Pitts' surprise when he saw the church from his memory nestled in the trees. The forgotten song was brought out and taught to his class. Later it was sung at the church's dedication in 1862.

For the first few years the congregation had been meeting in donated spaces which included the homes of some members. As the population increased, they decided to build an appropriate church. Money was an issue, but with several generous donations from parishioners, the structure was begun on land donated by a local family. When it was time to paint the newly constructed building, the thrifty folks settled for the cheapest paint they could find Ohio Mineral Paint. It did the job, but unfortunately brown was not the most attractive color for a church.

This modest little church has seen its ups and downs over the years, and at one time almost closed for good. In the early 20th century a preservation society was started to maintain this rural gem. After World War I visitors visited the church that they had heard about in the hymn and when a local school superintendent was married there, a new purpose for the church began. In 2009, the church marked 73,000 weddings, though they remind us that they are not just a wedding chapel. Over 40,000 visitors pass through the church every year and are inspired by the surroundings as well as the song.

Department 56 is pleased to introduce this church in The Original Snow Village in 2012.

Here is a link to the church's web site.


"Williamsburg Miniatures"

In the earlier days of Department 56, our artists tried many things. Some were a great success, others not so much! Here you see some rare pieces that were part of a small group of solid cold cast porcelain buildings we called "Williamsburg Miniatures". What we have are 6 buildings, 5 houses and a simple white church each dated 1986. There may very well have been more. Each measures about 4 inches wide and 4 inches tall. They are hand painted with some details but are rather primitive in design. When the new Williamsburg Series was introduced in the Spring of 2010, we dug them out to compare the two series. With all the technological advances since the first series arrived 25 years ago we know that you would be interested in this older series. You can look at the new (and much improved) series in the Product section of this web site.

Do any of you own these, or others that may have been part of this group? We'd love to see photos. Or have you found something old that bears a Department 56 logo that you would like us to identify? We'll feature some of these Treasures In The Attic as well.




"Moondoggie's Board Shop"

Surf's Up! This great new lit building for The Original Snow Village (#4020953) does not feature any snow - rather, it does have "sand" around the base, colorful Hawaiian shirts for sale and according to the sign, "Boards, shirts and Sunglasses" ready to sell any beach bum. "Moon Doggie" was a character in several of Frederick Kochner's novels about a teenage girl named "Gidget" (actress Sally Field). First coined in the 1961 movie "Gidget Goes Hawaiian", Gidget calls her surfer boyfriend (played by James Darren) Moon Doggie because he loved to surf by moonlight and the name is now an enduring term used to describe anyone who is in love with the sport of surfing. The term "moon doggy" is really an astrological term used to describe the ring that goes around a full moon. Besides the lit building, a colorful accessory, "Beachside Christmas" (#4020228) will look great along side. Add a little of your own favorite surf music and you'll be all set!

It is known that surfing is a popular sport anywhere there is water and good ocean surf. The first record of the sport dates back to the mid 18th century in Polynesia. Lt. James King chronicled details of the sport when he completed the journal of Captain James Cook who died in 1779 while on a voyage to what were originally called the "Sandwich Islands", later named Hawaii. When American author, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark twain, visited Hawaii in 1866 he wrote, "In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing."

"Saint Paul's Chapel"

This new house of worship for "Christmas In The City" (#4020173) has a rich history - some based in the past and some that is much more current. Originally completed in 1766, it is the oldest surviving church in Manhattan with a history of a number of famous people who attended religious services here -- one of the most renowned was President George Washington. In fact, this is where Washington attended church services on the morning of his first inauguration in 1789, and since then, it has been a tradition for the newly elected president to attend services prior to the inauguration.

Because of its location to the former World Trade Center, the chapel became a center of refuge during tragic events of September 11, 2001. For the next eight months the chapel served as a cafeteria, a hospital, a counseling center and a gathering place for rescue workers and volunteers.
This piece is a tribute to all those who perished, and all those who worked so hard to rescue survivors.

"Lea Hurst House"
The Dickens' Village Series® 808869
"Florence Nightingale" Accessory 808897

Did you know that the new "Lea Hurst House" porcelain building in The Dickens' Village Series® was inspired by the summer home of the wealthy Nightingale family? Their now famous daughter was Florence Nightingale who was named for the city in Italy where she was born in 1820. The younger of two daughters born to an upper middle-class British family, Florence was given all advantages possible of a young girl in the Victorian age - tutor educated, well traveled, and independent.

At the age of 24 Florence was drawn to a career of service to the poor in nursing which in the 19th century which was not considered to be a highly trained or respected profession. After visiting the hospitals of the poor for eleven years, Florence met a group of nuns who impressed her with their disciplined and well-organized methods. She studied with these nurses and went on to do charitable nursing during the Crimean Wars in the 1850s and elevated nursing to a respectable profession, She believed that good care and nutrition were essential to the recovery of patients.

The Lea Hurst estate, located in Derbyshire, England, is an example of the upper middle-class setting for the early life of Florence Nightingale who was often referred to as "the lady with the lamp".

There is much more to learn about this remarkable woman so I hope that you will do a little research to learn more about her. I know that you all enjoy knowing the stories that influence the designs in our Villages and I hope to share more with you in the future. Besides knowing a little of the history of this piece, I think that it would be a wonderful gift to give your favorite nurse or nursing student.

"Foggy Point Platform"

Snow Village Halloween 809379

One of the new pieces for the Snow Village Halloween is called "Foggy Point Platform" (809379). This piece is certain to become the centerpiece of many Snow Village Halloween displays. When we think of Halloween, the spookier the atmosphere, the better, and this piece absolutely fits the bill!

The entire platform (two pieces) is made of resin and includes a reservoir/ basin for water which will produce "fog" which is quite cool. There is a motor that produces the fog and LED lighting which add to the special effects. It is important to take a few minutes to read the "Set-Up Introductions" and review these each season so that you can successfully use this piece in your display for many, many years. One thing our testers learned about this piece is worth mentioning. Because the fog is directed to "bubble" over the edges of the lower basin, direct overhead ventilation may change the flow of fog and cause condensation on any surrounding surface so it is important to put the platform on some sort of absorbent material with a sheet of plywood or Styrofoam beneath that to protect the furniture or floor where the display is located. These recommendations are included in the instructions - If you read them! We hope that many of you will send us electronic photos of how you include this platform in your Village ( and we will share them in the Collectors' Section of the web site. It will also be interesting to see which lighted building you think will look the best on the base which is quite large and can hold a wide variety of buildings that have been introduced into this popular Village.

I was interested in the origin of the name so, of course, I had to do a little research. It seems that "Foggy Bottom" is meteorological term that describes an area of low land that is susceptible to the concentration of fog and industrial smoke. One of the most famous "Foggy Bottom" areas is located west of Washington, D.C. and was home to many early immigrant settlers. Today "Foggy Bottom" contains many historic homes and buildings (the earliest built in the late 1700s), and buildings of interest including the infamous Watergate complex. The rather spooky sounding name is well suited to the platform in the Snow Village Halloween because it not only describes what the piece does but it helps to create a mysterious aura for your display. We hope that you all enjoy this piece as much as we enjoyed creating it for you.

"St. Luke's Church"

(Dickens' Village Series® 25th Anniversary Edition - 808858)

On April 2, 1836, just two days after the publication of the first installment of "Pickwick Papers", 27 year old Charles Dickens married 20 year old Catherine Hogarth at Saint Luke's Church in the Chelsea section of London.

The church had been dedicated October 18, 1824, the feast day of Saint Luke. It was designed and constructed to accommodate the expanding congregation in the area by architect James Savage. Savage was one of the foremost authorities on medieval architecture in England at the time and the design was the first Neo-Gothic church built in London. Limestone from quarries in Bath (England) was used for the exterior. The flying buttresses and pinnacles added an air of height and feeling of flight to the structure.

Hugh Easton designed a replacement East Window for St. Luke's that was installed in 1959. The original 500 square foot window was damaged during the air raids over London during World War II. The new window was designed in honor of the Holy Trinity and incorporated images of many Saints.

Charles and Catherine were married on a Saturday morning, which fit with Charles' increasingly busy work schedule. The group of witnesses to the nuptials was small; the Hogarth and Dickens' families and a couple of Charles' work associates including Mr. Thomas Beard, who was asked to serve as Best Man. According to a friend, Catherine was "a bright, pleasant bride."

Charles presented Catherine with a sandalwood work-box inlaid with ivory with the inscription, From Chas. Dickens to Kate, April 2, 1836. A work-box was a Victorian term used to describe a box where sewing materials and tools were kept, so the gift was a fancy wood sewing kit, a very necessary item for a young Victorian woman setting up housekeeping.

Following the ceremony the group retired to York Place, the Hogarth home, for a wedding breakfast celebration. Later Charles and Catherine traveled to Chalk, near Rochester for their honeymoon.