A Miniature Village Rises Again

Durell Godfrey

With lighted windmills, glowing Christmas trees lining Main Street, and a lone tree with blue lights in Town Pond, East Hampton Village seems like a holiday village out of a storybook. But even without seeing the village in holiday dress, visitors to the East Hampton Historical Society’s Clinton Academy can visit a pastoral holiday hamlet — in miniature.

A petite Christmas village, comprising small-scale replicas of farmhouses, churches, ponds, people, and animals, will be set up for the second year there, thanks to Mary Busch, who inherited the figurines and diminutive pieces from her parents.

“We lived in a rather large house,” Ms. Busch, who grew up in Hauppauge, said. The Christmas village would be set up on a window seat under a bay window, alongside an “enormous Christmas tree.”

Her parents worked through the night to put the tiny town together after she and her two siblings went to bed on Christmas Eve. They started at 8 or 9 p.m., Ms. Busch said. “I don’t think they finished much before 4 or 5 in the morning. They probably drank a lot of coffee.”

On Christmas morning, when the children went downstairs, there it would be, laid out on a white field of fabric, with chicken wire-covered boards to make mountains and big, old-fashioned colored lights. “The houses would fit into the mountainside; there would be lights underneath,” Ms. Busch said. “It was just amazing to me.”

There were little animals, and people, and trees, and “snow babies,” Ms. Busch said. Some of the pieces are vintage German figurines and some were purchased in dime stores.

“There were a lot of memories,” Ms. Busch said. “I was just so very glad that I was able to share it, because it had given me so much pleasure, and my brother and sister, and my family, and my pals.” Young friends, she said, would visit the family just to see the display.

The tradition of building miniature Christmastime landscapes began with the Pennsylvania Dutch in the late 1800s. A village, called a “putz,” was made using handcrafted wooden figures as well as mass-produced cardboard putz houses, which have now become collectibles.

Ms. Busch said she ended up with the family collection — begun by her mother as a young wife — but, because of limited space in her own house, she had not seen any of it set up until last year, when it was displayed in Clinton Academy for the first time, as part of an annual toy exhibit.

“I kind of made it the way my mother did it,” said Ms. Busch of the setup last year. There was, she said, “the woman on the bridge crossing the pond, the farm on the side, the snow babies playing, the stagecoach going through, the sleigh, the Santa on skis, tons of reindeer. . . .”

With help, she assembled the pieces and wired the lights. “Then we put the ‘snow’ all around,” she said. Some of the antique miniatures required a bit of tender loving care. “We repaired the barn, and we had to put new reins on the sleigh because they had fallen off.”

It might be a bit larger than last year, she said, and look slightly different. But following tradition, Ms. Busch said, “the farm will be on the right and the big white church will be on the left, with the rector’s home.”

“It was kind of sad these things were in boxes and packed away,” Ms. Busch said. The work of setting up the mini village this time will begin shortly after Thanksgiving, and it will be there for all to see. “I just hope people enjoy it.”

Durell Godfrey
Mary Busch sets it up.Durell Godfrey
Durell Godfrey
Durell Godfrey
Durell Godfrey
Durell Godfrey