Tryon Toy Makers: Historic toys and wood carving in Tryon North Carolina
The Toy Shop and The Toy House
Historic retail showrooms of the Tryon Toy Makers

Not long after buying "Hillcote" cottage on Grady Avenue at Markham Road in 1915, Miss Vance and Miss Yale opened a retail showroom in a wing of their home. The public entrance to this Toy Shop faced Markham Road. Views of its welcoming entrance and its interior filled with tables of toys and doll furniture were published in 1924 in Azure-Lure. This book was published in Asheville, illustrated with photographs by Plateau Studio. The half-tone images are printed crudely such that details are not easy to study, but they provide good information about what was being made and sold in the earliest years of Tryon Toy-Makers and Wood-Carvers. (These words were always two, not one, sometimes hyphenated during the years Vance and Yale ran the enterprise.)

Entrance to Toy Shop on Markham Road, 1924

As the enterprise grew and thrived, the people of Tryon supported Vance and Yale in their efforts to publicize and distribute their products nationally. Out-of-town visitors to Hillcote began to interfere with their private life, numerous automobiles were disturbing the character of their residential neighborhood, and the space of the Toy Shop was needed for more production. Already the adjacent cottage north, facing Grady Avenue, had been acquired in 1920 for toy-painting and other production tasks. In October 1924 Miss Yale wrote her friend Fred Seely at Biltmore Industries in Asheville, which by now was their principal outlet for fine wood-carving, that a commercial lot had been acquired to build a new retail showroom and office.

This commercial lot, on East Howard Street near the principal thoroughfare North Trade Street, was carved out of "Strawberry Hill," the estate of Miss Mary Beach constructed two decades prior. She was heiress to a newspaper fortune in Terra Haute, Indiana and a public-spirited leader in the community. Where the money came from to build the Toy House on this lot has never been documented. Its purpose was not to provide living quarters, but rather to exhibit and vend the beautiful toys and wood carvings actually produced in the two buildings on Grady Avenue. A sign with the image of a nearly-life-size toy soldier was made to direct traffic from Trade Street around the corner and up Howard Street. Its motif was similar to the toy soldier depicted above the Menu of this Web site. (This vintage painted model for the toy soldier motif is now owned by Michael J. McCue, historian of Tryon Toy Makers.)

Toy Maker Catalog

Architect of the new Toy House was J. Foster Searles, a highly creative New York architect who had settled in Tryon a decade earlier. He was then busy designing picturesque residences around town in both sophisticated European styles and a round-log neo-primitive vein that evokes the character of the famed Adirondacks vacation "cottages." Searles' design for The Toy House expresses the goals and esthetic philosophies of Tryon Toy Makers and Wood Carvers. It rejects the primitivism of the Southern Highlands log cabin motif – used generally by other craft enterprises in the North Carolina mountains – in favor of the romance of a European cottage, in keeping with the origins and inspirations of Vance and Yale's enterprise. It is not, however, a copy of any particular European structure, and it does not evoke particularly the esthetic of St. Ulrich in South Tyrol.

After the completion in 1925 and opening of the Toy House for commerce, a second stucco structure was built adjacent to the east. Its purpose was to provide a place for Tryon Craft School, an "exhibition" workshop where apprentice youths could be seen learning the craft of wood working and toy painting. Much later this space was converted into living quarters, and after Vance and Yale sold the Toy House to Mr. & Mrs. H. Moss Guilbert in 1949, it too was converted in part to living space, while the Guilberts continued to use the principal showroom as their retail outlet for their enterprise Tryon Toymakers (now one word, with the Wood-Carvers deleted).

When the Guilberts sold their Toymakers business in the late 1970s, the retail showroom closed for good, and the structure thereafter was used entirely as a dwelling. The Toy House was purchased several years ago by a public-spirited out-of-town resident. She aimed for it to become a site for heritage tourism, entrusted to the management of a young man from Spartanburg who called it the Toymakers Museum. This plan did not succeed, and the future for this historic building is uncertain at this time. It is now closed to the public.