Woman preserves history by building replica of Williamsburg Governor’s Mansion

Writer  /  Christy Heitger-Ewing

Photography provided

It was a dream that was 40 years in the making, but last fall Mary Frost, just shy of her 98th birthday, saw it come to fruition when she put the finishing touches on her 5 ft. x 5 ft. dollhouse — a perfect replica of the Governor’s Mansion in Williamsburg, Virginia.

“She was the quintessential mother, but she also loved both art and history,” says daughter, Mary Eckard, noting that raising seven children left little time for hobbies. After her children were grown, however, Frost could finally delve into her passion project. At age 57, she asked her husband, Charles, to build her the shell of the house and she took it from there. She bought scores of historical books on the Williamsburg palace and studied them closely to ensure each room was accurate.

“The attention to detail was astounding,” Eckard. says “Little birds on the mantle. Portraits on the wall. One of the rooms has weapons covering the ceilings and walls. My siblings and I helped paint each of those guns. Every time I stepped inside the house, she’d hand me a paintbrush.”

For years, the house remained on a turntable in the dining room. The family just got used to entertaining around it.

After Charles died, Frost moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Mobile, Alabama. She took her cherished dollhouse with her, still under construction. She even moved from a three to a four-bedroom home so that she could devote an entire room to a workspace for the palace.

Losing her husband and then many of her friends was hard on Frost, but the thing that anchored her to what life had been was the Williamsburg house. So, she continued to work on it daily with the help of family, friends and folks from the Mobile Miniature Club.

After Frost passed away in December 2016, her children worked hard to find the perfect recipient for the palace — someone who would not only take care of it but would also fully appreciate all the painstaking work that went into creating it. Eckard called the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, and a bunch of other galleries, but no one could assure her that the house would remain on exhibit indefinitely.

Ultimately, Frost’s children felt like the ideal fit was the Hamilton County Park system. A dedication ceremony will take place at Coxhall on September 14. It will be open to the public thereafter.

“The time, money, energy and passion mother put into it was remarkable,” Eckart says. “But she wanted the house to be a treasure for the future and a treasure for this community.”

Frost’s children — Mary, Laura, Margaret, Martha, Jim, Charles, Jr. and Dick —are all proud of what their mother created.

“She certainly set a phenomenal example for me and my brothers and sisters about the power of perseverance and passion in life,” Eckard says. “The Williamsburg mansion represents a lifestyle and history that’s long since been forgotten by a lot of people. That’s why she wanted it to be around for generations to come.”

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