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The story of the Wenham Museum begins with dolls. In 1922, doll collector Elizabeth Richards Horton heard that her relatives were planning to sell the family’s 17th-century Wenham home with the intention of turning it into a destination for tourists. Horton reached out to the planners and offered to give the new attraction the collection of more than 800 dolls she had been gathering for decades.

They accepted, and the gift became the basis of the museum’s next 100 years as a beloved repository of local history and childhood fun.

“Visiting the Wenham Museum has been a part of the fabric of the childhood experience here on the North Shore for decades,” says museum executive director Kristin Noon, a Wenham native who paid many visits to the museum as a child and now brings her two sons.

As the Wenham Museum heads into its second century, the institution continues its efforts to remain modern and relevant, while retaining the signature sense of play and whimsy that have made it a local favorite for so long.

“People love the Wenham Museum, and they think of this as a fun place,” Noon says. “There’s also a strong element of nostalgia.”

The museum, then run by the Wenham Village Improvement Society, originally consisted of just the historic Claflin-Gerrish-Richards House and the exhibits of donated dolls. Over the years, more rooms and galleries were added. A major renovation in 1996 and 1997 brought the museum to its current size. Noon describes it today as a “family-friendly, hands-on history museum” for a multigenerational audience.

Visitors don’t have to go far to see what she means: Just steps from the admissions desk, the main gallery is home to rotating exhibits featuring items from the museum’s extensive collections—always including at least a few of the museum’s more than 5,000 dolls. The next exhibition will recreate historic downtown Wenham, complete with pretend shopping and a play version of the historic Wenham Tea House. There will also be newly commissioned photographs of today’s local businesspeople.

Surrounding these displays there are always plenty of opportunities for interactive fun—rideable horse toys, a kid-scale table set for an impromptu tea party, a toy train to clamber on and in—and displays that might capture the attention of adults as well, like antique signs and collections of historic clothes.

A hallway connects this gallery to the historic house, built in the 1660s, that was the original attraction on the site. The space includes period clothes to try on, a bed to sit on, and dishes and toy food to play with, allowing children to imagine life in centuries past.

“Everything in here is designed for hands-on engagement,” Noon says.

In the back of the building, a function room—embellished by wooden beams that come from Wenham’s first meeting house built in 1688—hosts special events like animal encounters, magic shows, and science activities.

Downstairs, one gallery is set up for play with gears, screws, ramps, blocks, and loose pieces of all shapes and sizes. The student art gallery features work from local schools; students whose art is displayed get free passes to the museum. In the train room, 21 model trains chug through 10 different layouts, including one extensive landscape that represents a journey through the towns of the North Shore, from Salem to Ipswich.

In honor of its 100th anniversary last year, the museum undertook a rebranding, unveiling a new logo that evokes an old-fashioned whirligig toy in warm, inviting colors. Renovations to the lobby added fresh carpet and made the front desk more accessible, and a climb-on wooden train play structure was added out front. The museum also launched a full-day summer camp, Camp Whirlygig, which replaced its previous, more modest summer programming.

More changes are on the way to kick off the museum’s next 100 years. A landscape overhaul is underway, with plans for a patio, exterior seating, gardens, and fencing in front of the white clapboard museum building and deep-brown historic house. And a refresh for the train room is in the works, driven by feedback from visitors who cherish that exhibit.

“There’s a lot of exciting things happening here,” Noon says. “And it really is a place the whole family can enjoy.”

132 Main St., Wenham, 978-468-2377,