Santa’s one-of-a-kind Cottage marks 40 cozy years
This week’s edition goes to press as Santa Claus makes his final preparations for his Christmas Eve trip around the globe, but for the last four decades, he’s had a wonderful place to call home in his visits to Cooperstown.
The 2021 Christmas season marks the fortieth anniversary of the village’s one-of-a-kind Christmas Cottage, located each year in Pioneer Park. That the Cottage still looks brand-new is testimony to its design and construction — not to mention the TLC the Village and the Cooperstown Community Christmas Committee devotes to the structure.
Fly Creek residents Lena and Bruce Guyot, expert designers of dollhouse kits for Greenleaf Dollhouses, Inc., created the life-sized Cottage from the ground up in the summer of 1981 after Santa’s former Cooperstown abode — two red storage huts on loan annually to the village from the Agway store on Railroad Avenue — would no longer be available. With only a few months before Christmas, the Guyots and the Christmas Committee met, designed, and created a miniature-scale model for the new building.
“It was a lovely combination of people and talent to make that cottage happen,” Lena Guyot recalled. “We had a couple of months at best to take it from design to model to completion.”
“People knew that Bruce and I designed dollhouses and kits,” she said. “The Committee came to us and we thought we could do something special that was in keeping with the beauty of the village.”
Detail was key, she said, including commissioning a stenciling artist to incorporate the image of a mouse hole on the Cottage’s interior wall.
“Not a creature was stirring, you know,” she said. “We needed to have a mouse hole!”
“It’s the teeny tiny details that make hard work fun,” she said, noting design specs like a front and back door to the building “so that there’d be a place for family members to watch while their kids interview Santa Claus.”
“We never did this for the credit,” she said. “We wanted to keep the joy and innocence of Christmas alive and make it come to life on Main Street.”
Cooperstown carpenter Jim Dean volunteered to build the Cottage to scale based on the Guyots’ original drawings and the model. The Christmas Committee provided the materials.
“The design is spectacular,” Mr. Dean said, looking back on the work on its anniversary. He collaborated with furniture restorer and master craftsman Bill Ralston in their Pioneer Street shops to build the Cottage in 1981. “We were really fortunate to have something so unique and so carefully designed. They scaled everything just right.”
“We built the basic frame, made the windows, the doors, the trim, all the hinges, everything, right here in Cooperstown,” he said. “There were so many local volunteers on the project. They made it a real community project.”
“Ed Hobbie came along and fabricated the chassis and the wheels so we could move it to Pioneer Park,” Mr. Dean continued. “I’d like to name everyone who helped but there were just so many, and they all volunteered.”
Cooperstown’s Bill Waller added, “The painting was done in the cold of November. A plastic tent was erected over the house and space heaters used to warm up the surfaces. We had a copper wind vane made, copper flashing, custom stenciling around the interior all done by volunteers.”
“We had a rallying cry: It’s for Santa and the children,” he said.
Lena Guyot had fond memories of working in the cold.
“It was terrible weather,” she said. “We had plastic sheeting up because the windows hadn’t come in and the roof wasn’t on. We were painting and freezing but I had made a big pot of chili that day and we all sat in the middle and filled ourselves with a hot lunch. We really felt the joy of the project.”
“It was close to Christmas time when we finished,” Mr. Dean said this week. “I just found the original key to the front door in my desk. It has a little label on it that says ‘Santa House.’”
He credited the Village of Cooperstown and its workers for taking good care of the Cottage and keeping it looking new for each year’s holiday season.
“There’s a special building for it,” he said. “So many great professionals came together in 1981 to bring this thing to life, and now we have a great group of people who care about it as much as we did. Pioneer Park looks wonderful. People volunteer and work hard every year to make Cooperstown look spectacular.”
As for Santa’s Cottage, he said, “Everyone is very proud of it.”