Random header image... Refresh for more!

Little House on the Campus

On the campus of Shepherd University, there is a house constructed in 1928 that is only ten feet tall.  It wasn’t just built to the scale of a child–it was literally built over several years by children with the help of adults.

Originally, it was part of a one-acre model farm, a laboratory setting where teaching students could observe children at play and children could try out their hand at farming.  A stream runs nearby, and a barn–also the scale of a child–still stands behind the house, though it now houses random equipment for the university.

It was the start of experiential education.


We heard about the Little House on our second trip to Shepherdstown.  We drove around the campus trying to find it, pointing out various houses on the side streets wondering what constituted “little” when it came to Little House.  We tried two more times to find it and finally gave up.  Then, last summer, we were walking down a street that we had walked down dozens of times before and as we passed over the stream, I looked up and saw that we were facing a tiny, limestone house.

From that point on, every time we visited the town, we would go to the windows and peek inside.

It became a bit of an obsession, the idea of entering this tiny, living doll house, though that also didn’t become an actual possibility until a few weeks ago when I was buying the ring and the owner of the store, Plum, mentioned that her kids had been inside.

Cari sent me down to the Visitor’s Center and brilliantly wonderful Cheryl gave me a campus number and several phone calls later, landed a conversation with the incredible and amazing Holly who announced that we would have access to the Little House on February 20th at 1 p.m.  I hung up the phone and proceeded to run around the living room screeching with the twins.

You may think I’m being a bit overly effusive in doling out my adjectives, but you would use the same words if you were visiting the town on February 20th.


On Saturday, a little before 1 p.m., we showed up outside the snowed in Little House and danced on the sidewalk to keep warm.  At two minutes past 1 p.m. the twins started dramatically asking if the volunteer had forgotten about us and we promised them that no, watches are often misaligned and there was no need to worry until at least 10 minutes had passed.

10 minutes turned to 15 and at 20 minutes past one, I walked up the street to the Visitor’s Center to inquire what one does when no one shows up at the Little House and there are two children with their noses pressed up against the window.  Except there is no protocol because apparently, the concept of setting up an appointment to see Little House is somewhat of a new operation.  Cheryl called people all over town, trying to hunt down a key, and sent us up to the teahouse so we could feed the kids while she continued to work on the problem.

Can you see why I love Shepherdstown and think it’s the greatest place on earth?*

Perhaps this is the reason why I am drawn to the small house, drawn to the small towns because size sometimes matters.  That there is a coldness that can descend over a large community, and as much as I love the choices inherent in living outside of Washington, D.C., what I miss from living in small towns is the care that is extended from one person to another.  And in this case, not even someone part of the community but rather a visitor, someone they could take or leave but chose to take.

As we were having our snack, Holly hunted us down at the teahouse, dangling a key as she crouched down by our table.  It was like the moment after a tornado, when the world falls calm and the air feels strange and everyone looks at each other and realizes that the storm is over.

Maybe it was that much sweeter when we stepped inside because we had spent two hours returning to the idea that it was an impossibility.  Josh remained outside, too tall to walk through the house easily, but I went inside with the twins.  I have to imagine that entering that house is the closest a human can come to knowing how Snow White felt when she found the home of the seven dwarfs.  It is the embodiment of safety and happiness–a tiny harbour in the craziness of a college campus.


Even without heat, with the snow coming down through the chimney and settling on the real logs in the fireplace, the tiny home is cozy.  It proves the point of how little we need to create happiness.  The downstairs contains a living room with a reading chair next to the bookcase, a sofa, and a child-size piano.

There is a dining room and a small kitchen, with a back door that looks out onto the small stream that runs through the backyard.

Up a flight of wooden stairs are two bedrooms–one for a boy and one for a girl.

The ChickieNob noticed the symmetry from her life in the twin bedrooms before I reached the top landing.  “This is a house built for us,” she exclaimed, heading into her pink room-for-a-few-minutes with baby dolls in cradles.  She rocked her babies and fed her babies toy eggs that the Wolvog brought up from the kitchen below.

The Wolvog retreated to his blue room-for-a-few-minutes, austere and neat, with a stuffed animal dog watching over the bed.  Between the two rooms was a tiny alcove sitting room, with windows overlooking the lawn below.

After poking around the upstairs rooms, I returned to the dining room to wait for them.  There was something bittersweet to sit on the lower level and hear their feet moving over the wooden floors in their respective bedrooms.  At home they still share a bedroom, a situation that we know needs to come to an end soon as much as I wish we could let it go on indefinitely.  As much as they wish it could go on indefinitely.  As much as they need their own space, there is a coziness they are drawn to perhaps by the mere fact that they have never known–from conception until now–what it feels like to be alone.

After a few minutes, the ChickieNob decided that she would rather stay with the Wolvog in his room, and they shifted to become the mommy and daddy of the house, tending to the babies left in the other bedroom, with a live-in grandmother who cooks for them.  I moved into the living room, not wanting their game to end, and feeling terrible for the volunteer and Josh who were both standing on the snowy sidewalk outside.

I gave them a five minute warning, a two minute warning, and a final request to wrap up their playtime.  The drawfs are lucky that they never attempted to kick Snow White out of their miniature abode after giving her asylum from the evil queen.  It is not an easy task to eject someone from their own personal Garden of Eden.

The ChickieNob moved downstairs, the lower lip quivering over the idea of leaving the house behind.  The Wolvog paused by the front door and told me that he needed to take a picture of everything in the house before he could leave, even though he knew that I had taken multiple photographs of the various rooms.  He needed to do the task again, this time through his own eyes.

When I asked the Weekly What If question on Friday, it was pulled out of thin air.  But the Wolvog fell in step with me after we left the house and crossed behind it back to the main street.  “I’m never going to forget that,” he promised.  “I’m going to use these pictures so I never ever forget.”

Maybe it’s true that a picture can speak a thousand words because I am right now trying to write about it and finding that words fail to convey how magical it was to step inside this space that was made with children in mind, adults be damned.  I keep returning to the dozens of pictures I snapped while the twins played, running from room to room with their dolls and toy food, recreating everything they’ve ever observed in keeping house; setting up a new way to live life.


Waiting for them on the tiny blue sofa made me think about how often the world and its spaces aren’t created for the people meant to utilize them.  The Kevin Smith/Southwest story keeps playing out in the news and at the end of the day, airline seats aren’t really created for any of us.  The slivers of seats are created that way to fit more seats and therefore, more revenue for the airline.

Or there are the spaces that are created with the body of the average man in mind, when nearly 50% of the world isn’t male at all, and how many of the remaining people fit that average body type the designers keep in mind when setting the height of the counter or the width of the bench?

We once went on a tour of a Frank Lloyd Wright house where the children’s section of the house was scaled to the owner’s children.  I could tuck easily into the tiny corners and narrow hallway, but the rest of the people on our tour, including Josh, were uncomfortable and unable to experience the space in its entirety.  And maybe that was Wright’s point–that we are all meant to have our own unique spaces that fit us and us alone.

Whether those spaces are physical or intangible is beside the point when you consider the emotion behind the statement.


There is an anonymous poem written in 1945 printed on the information sheet given about the Little House.  Hopefully, the author will not mind the fact that I am reprinting it here and will know that I do so because it touched me so much even before the visit.  They were the words I thought about as I sat on the tiny blue sofa in the living room.

A Prayer for a Little House

G-d send us a little home
To come back to when we roam–
Red firelight and deep chairs,
Small white beds upstairs,
Great talk in little nooks,
Dim colours, rows of books,
One picture on each wall,
Not many things in all.

G-d send us a little ground–
Fall trees standing around,
Homely flowers in brown sod,
Overhead, the stars, O G-d!
G-d bless when winds blow
Our little home and all we know.

* Shepherdstown is literally the greatest day trip from Washington, D.C.  It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes away, nine miles from Harper’s Ferry.  The Visitor’s Center has a walking tour booklet and menus for all the local restaurants.  Our favourite spaces are the Shepherdstown Opera House (an indie movie theater), Four Seasons Books, Plum, One Two Kangaroo (toy store), O’Hurleys, Grapes & Grains Gourmet (for beer), China Kitchen (for egg rolls), Shaharazades (for tea), and Stone Soup Bistro (for nice meals).


1 Battynurse { 02.21.10 at 1:16 pm }

ok so I can’t see most of the pictures but of the ones I can see how very cute. Sounds like a fabulous trip. There are so many things on the east coast I would love to come visit someday.

2 a { 02.21.10 at 1:46 pm }

I love the idea of that house! I wish we lived closer – my daughter would love it there. She’s been assaulting me with the Pottery Barn Kids catalog every day to tell me how she wants the kitchen set (although she does say that Santa should bring it or Daddy should make it), and a whole house would send her into raptures! So glad you were able to go inside.

3 Jendeis { 02.21.10 at 1:48 pm }

Mel, could you post a pic of someone standing outside the Little House to show the scale? I think it’s most dramatic that way. 🙂

4 Battynurse { 02.21.10 at 2:08 pm }

Ok, yes I can see them now. That is beyond cute. A little kids dream to be sure.

5 Lavender Luz { 02.21.10 at 3:05 pm }

I think your words conveyed the sentiment very well. It feels to me like a magical place for people of all ages and sizes. I loved “seeing” it through they eyes of you and your children.

Day trip, for sure!

6 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 02.21.10 at 3:10 pm }

I live in a house proportioned for tall people, which is okay for me and fantastic for DH. One of my colleagues has a custom-built house for short people where DH constantly bangs his head.

Glad you had such a magical time, and that the children appreciated it as much as you did.

7 Bea { 02.21.10 at 4:00 pm }

A space that fits. It is a nice thought. So hard to find, sometimes.


8 coffeegrl { 02.21.10 at 6:27 pm }

Ah – space that is sized appropriately! How tricky. Living in Japan doesn’t really suit me. At nearly 5’8″ everything is just too short. I’m constantly hunched over tables, kitchen counters, push carts etc. getting a sore back. And sitting in chairs is no better as much of my height is in my lower half meaning my legs are impossibly folded and contorted as I try to cram myself under a tiny table (assuming there are chairs to begin with). It’s true that we never seem to quite fit anywhere that isn’t custom-built. I empathize with children in particular, when we ask them to fit themselves into adult chairs (even with a booster) feet dangling below as it just isn’t a good fit.

9 HereWeGoAJen { 02.21.10 at 8:26 pm }

A friend of mine, growing up, had a little playhouse in her backyard. I was so jealous. Until I went in it, and it was just bare, unfinished walls inside, with bare nails sticking out. So your Little House sounds like a dream come true.

10 Pundelina { 02.21.10 at 8:35 pm }

Oh what a gorgeous Little place. I do wish I lived over the sae near you so I could go visit the Little House – I have had a fascination with miniature places and things forever and that perfect tiny house full of perfectly scaled belongings looks divine.

11 S.I.F. { 02.21.10 at 10:55 pm }

That house is adorable! And I just love the idea of having children help to build it. If your kids enjoyed it as much as they did, just imagine what an unforgettable experience it was for those who were actually involved in the building!

12 Alexicographer { 02.21.10 at 11:02 pm }

What a wonderful trip/visit!

I don’t mean to ask an inanely stupid question (or pry), but your children need to stop sharing a bedroom soon … why? My brother and I shared a bedroom until we were (or at least, I was, he is 3 years my junior) almost teens, and did fine with it. And really that is probably much more the norm in most of the world and most of history — why not let them share, if that’s what they (and you, it seems) want?

13 Mrs Woggie { 02.22.10 at 12:21 am }

What a cute little house! I’d love to visit that! I’m glad your kids enjoyed it!

14 queenie { 02.22.10 at 3:08 am }

The Little House is positively enchanting!

15 edenland { 02.22.10 at 4:11 am }

It feels like your whole heart is in this post, Mel. I love how you love your children. They are so so blessed to have you as their mum.


16 Lucy { 02.22.10 at 12:48 pm }

That house sounds so great! I know I would have loved a little playhouse when I was little!

17 Krist { 02.22.10 at 1:03 pm }

What a great post. Josh seems like a handy guy. Couldn’t he make your twins their own little house? How cool would that be.

18 luna { 02.22.10 at 1:32 pm }

“And maybe that was Wright’s point–that we are all meant to have our own unique spaces that fit us and us alone.” I love this.

I’ve been thinking about your ‘what if’ all weekend and still can’t decide. tough one.

19 Kristin { 02.22.10 at 1:51 pm }

How incredibly cool. It sounds like a magical place.

20 Catrisha T { 02.22.10 at 2:02 pm }

A little kids’ fairy tale dream come true. How totally awesome this tiny little house built for a child is. Glad that the twins had fun. TFS.

21 IF Optimist (Traci) { 02.22.10 at 2:08 pm }

Thanks Mel for taking us all on your visit to a magical little place and also giving us a hint of how it would be as a child to visit. I love being able to have a “couch vacation” for a day.

22 Kimbosue { 02.22.10 at 2:54 pm }

So cute!

23 Elizabeth { 02.22.10 at 5:00 pm }

This is positively enchanting! And the prayer is like icing on the (cup)cake. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post. ICLW

24 Tireegal { 02.22.10 at 9:48 pm }

I loved this post and the idea of being in a small intimate childlike space. When I was a kid I was in love with the whole miniature people and houses. Did you ever read the book, Five dolls in a House by Helen Claire? I was fascinated by it and I wished I had a little person to carry around in my pocket and who I could take care of.
sone of the best experiences are those that you have to put some effort into to get there. Sweeter! Thanks for sharing:)

25 jaymee { 02.23.10 at 12:35 am }

what a beautiful place to have such a magical experience with the kids. i did however get misty eyed when you wrote about them needing to be in separate rooms, always a hard thing to put two people who have always been together in separate spaces. of course, they will do it on their own eventually.


26 Terry Elisabeth { 02.24.10 at 10:29 am }

I think I would have become mad by my own exhuberation if I had visited this house as a child.

27 Billy { 02.24.10 at 6:39 pm }

One size fits all..
Just heard the other day how most medical research is done only on men and how the assumption was that the same will be true for women with just smaller doses of drugs etc. and how they are learning now that what is true for men, is not necessarily true for women..

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author