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Restoration isn’t mere child’s play

A 70-year-old windmill playhouse now sits in Barb Giorgi’s yard after a monthlong restoration process. (Republican Eagle photo by Maureen McMullen)1 / 4
As a personal touch, Linda Tollison Buysse created mosaic stained-glass windows. She plans to grout them in the spring. 2 / 4
Before its restoration, a windmill playhouse had decaying panels and was filled with evidence of animals. (Photo special to the Republican Eagle) 3 / 4
Roy Engstrom, a local photographer, built the windmill playhouse for his four daughters in the early 1940s. (Photo special to the Republican Eagle) 4 / 4

Sheridan Tollison was 6 years old when he first saw the playhouse in his cousin’s neighborhood. Fashioned after a Dutch windmill, the tiny building’s unique design piqued the curiosity of nearby children.

“I went with my cousins a couple of times to knock on the door and ask, ‘could we play in the little house?’” Tollison said. “(The owner) said, ‘Yes, but only for 15 minutes.’ So, we got done in 15 minutes and she said, ‘OK, you can go now.’ It must have been an attractive nuisance with kids wanting to see it because it was unusual.”

More than 70 years later, Tollison joined his daughter, Linda Tollison Buysse, and her sister Barb Giorgi in the monthlong process of relocating and restoring the windmill.

Roy Engstrom, a local photographer, spent a winter in the 1940s building the windmill in his garage for his four daughters. The playhouse remained in their yard on East Seventh Street until the mid-1970s, when it found a new home in the garden of Joseph and Mary Kernan.

Giorgi and Buysse, who were both in sixth grade at the time, lived next door to the Kernans. They were fascinated by the windmill, but never had the chance to go inside.

When Giorgi relayed this memory to the Kernans’ son over the summer, he suggested the women take the playhouse.

“He was thrilled that we’d take it and restore it,” Giorgi said. “He didn’t know how to do any of the carpentry.”

The condition of the windmill, however, didn’t quite match Buysse and Giorgi’s memories. Since its relocation decades ago, the elements had taken their toll on the playhouse.

“It was just falling apart,” said Buysse. “It had a big vine growing through it. It was in bad shape. I think in one more winter it would’ve been gone.”

Buysse said the most difficult step in the process was moving the windmill to the yard behind Giorgi’s home, which is perched on top of a bluff. Buysse’s husband, Dave, carefully lowered the windmill down a steep slope with his truck using a trailer and system of safety ropes.

With the windmill in place, Buysse got to work replacing the rotted panels and scooping out hundreds of walnuts squirrels had stashed in the walls over the years. The unusually warm October weather and her recent retirement from teaching kindergarten allowed Buysse to get to work immediately.

“The weather was just beautiful, so she’d come every day to work on it,” Giorgi said.

From the blue color of the interior to the scenery painted on the walls, Buysse paid careful attention to restore the interior details as they had been 70 years ago.

She struggled to find the right hue of blue paint until finding a glove that perfectly matched the color of the original interior. Sherwin Williams was able to scan the color into its computer system and customize the paint.

To recreate the scenery that had been painted on the walls, Buysse printed and cut out photos of the original images, which she then decoupaged to the walls. Among the newer personal touches are mosaic stained-glass windows, which Buysse crafted out of glass shards.

The space is a snug fit for adults, but Buysse said her granddaughter, Sophie, a frequent visitor to Giorgi’s house, has enjoyed playing in the windmill.

“That’s kind of where we got the inspiration to get it done, for Sophie and the little grandkids to play in when they come up,” Buysse said. “It is more fun when you have a purpose for it, otherwise who’s going to use it?”