I am an equal opportunity location aficionado. Filming sites, pop culture landmarks, true crime scenes, literary locales – they all fascinate me. Today might be a first, though, as I don’t recall ever covering a spot made famous by a doll! While perusing Instagram recently, I was introduced to the Theodore Carpenter House, a stunning estate sited about 35 miles north of Manhattan at 81 W. Main St. in Mount Kisco, New York, which played a central role in the story of Samantha Parkington, one of the first American Girl dolls. Outfitted with a handsome mansard roof featuring scalloped shakes, glorious ornamentation and a central four-story tower, the property is the stuff Victorian dreams are made of! But it is the pad’s place in pop culture history that really had me chomping at the bit. (Please remember this is a private home. Do not trespass or bother the residents or the property in any way.)
For women of a certain age, few toys are as revered as the six original American Girl historical dolls. A definitive piece of nostalgia for Gen Xers, Millennials and even Gen Zs, Samantha, Kirsten, Mollie, Felicity, Josefina and Addy are as beloved today as when they initially debuted in the 1980s and 1990s. Manufactured by the Pleasant Company, the 18-inch soft-body figures were the brainchild of Pleasant Rowland, a former teacher and one-time vice president of the Boston Educational Research Company, who was inspired to create the line during a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. While visiting the historic district, Rowland sensed there might be a market for dolls representing various eras in America’s past. Her inclination was spot-on.
Initially based in Middleton, Wisconsin, the Pleasant Company released its first three historical dolls in May 1986, with Samantha leading the pack. A book detailing the moppets’ various backstories was included with each purchase. The line became an instant hit and additional dolls were soon introduced, each with their own clothing, accessories and books.
Though Rowland sold the company to Mattel for a whopping $700 million in 1998, just a little over a decade after it was founded, doll sales never skipped a beat. The American Girl characters remain wildly celebrated today, with children lining up in droves to visit the outcropping of officially branded stores, sprawling high-end outlets complete with expansive sales floors, salons (for the dolls, of course) and cafés, which have become exceedingly popular sites for birthday parties. Although countless historical and non-historical characters have been introduced in the years since, the original six remain the most beloved, with Samantha the senior OG of the bunch.