Our Town Dyersville: Inside The First Mansion

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DYERSVILLE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- All Summer, KCRG-TV9 will be visiting towns across eastern Iowa to showcase what makes them unique places to live, work and play as part of the KCRG-TV9 Our Town series.

The Dyer-Botsford Doll Museum is inside the city's first mansion, built on the hill on the east side of downtown.

"It’s not just a doll museum."

But that’s still what draws many people into the Dyer-Botsford House, on First Street East in Dyersville, just across from City Hall.

This is a home that was built to be a mansion by late 19th-century standards.

“The house itself was the first frame house built in Dyersville by James Dyer, hence Dyersville,” said Judy Weber with the city’s historical society. “He founded the town and, about a year or two later, he built this house and had the lumber brought in from Dubuque. This house is 170 years old. It was not just like this – it’s been remodeled many, many times but he built this house on a knoll, this one, whole block and it was a mansion for its time period.”

Judy noted that, as the decades advances and Dyersville kept growing, there was a moment in time where the historical society had to step in to preserve this element of the town tapestry.

“In 1988, it was threatened to be torn down so the Historicial Society purchased it on a shoestring budget,” said Weber. “With thousands and thousands of hours of volunteer labor, the woodwork was stripped, took off as many as eleven layers of wallpaper and found the original.”

There is a lot of “original” inside the Dyer-Botsford House. We’ll start at the top floor – yes, the Doll Museum.

“A lady from Cascade called, a Mrs. Schimmel, and said ‘I’ve got 900 dolls. Would you want to give them a home?’ Bingo. That’s how it became a doll museum… it is not just a doll museum. It is chock full of Dyersville history.”

That collection is now about 2,000 dolls. Across generations and even centuries, from the classic dolls to 70’s-style action figures. Toys and images that can transform a person back decades to a more innocent time.

With a main floor that shows furniture of past eras within the Dyer-Botsford House, the basement is also where a person can see the Dyersville of the past.

“The basement is another level where we have theatre seats out of our theatre, just next door,” said Weber. “All types of advertising from the businesses that have come and gone, clothing, a Civil War uniform. There’s so much in this house and we are so proud of it.”

This also includes an electric-run circus within a “bubble”, a system of levers and switches that draw in the eye. All to offer this block of history in Dyersville that is more than just dolls.