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Four generation playhouse

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Since the 1930s, the Duke children have one thing in common; a little wooden playhouse that has come to life each summer for four generations

By Julie Graham

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For The Lancaster News

A small wooden playhouse for tea parties, dress up and all things make-believe owned by the Duke family of Lancaster has come to life again to entertain its fourth generation.

John and Beverly Duke have the playhouse in the backyard of their Meadow Drive home for the next generation, their granddaughter, Railee Brown, who turns two in July. 

During its nearly 70 years in the Duke family, it has been moved and repainted four times.  

“It is just a special piece of history that continues to live on,” said Beverly Duke, who works at Lancaster High School.

The playhouse is thought to have been built in the 1930s when President Roosevelt allocated public works funds. 

Years later, the late Georgie Beckham, John’s grandmother, acquired it for her daughters, Jan and Kay, after she spotted the cute little house behind a downtown building. At the time, it was storing coal.

Jan Duke said her mother had vision. The family moved it to their home on West Barr Street, where it was renovated, painted white, decorated and wired for electricity so the girls could play well past dark. 

Georgie even made curtains.  

Jan was about 6 years old when the playhouse arrived in her yard. 

“It was a ranch and we’d play cowboys and Indians, it was a fort, it was a playhouse for my dolls, and I would cook with sticks and rocks,” she said. “I had many magical hours in there until I was too tall. You’ve outgrown the playhouse when you can’t stand up in there.”

Her son, John, remembers the playhouse in his grandmother’s yard during his childhood. He would pretend it was a camp or fort, too. When the playhouse had outgrown its allure, it was sold to the Yoder family of Van Wyck for their children to enjoy.

John and Beverly bought the yellow playhouse back around 1994 for their daughters, Paige, 24, Meg, 22, and Katie, 19. 

It was moved from Van Wyck to the Duke home on Westmoreland Drive where it got another facelift – among its renovations were a new roof, front porch and a bubble-gum pink paint job.

During the late 1990s, the playhouse was the gathering place for neighborhood children. It was equipped with a table and chairs, refrigerator, stove, pantry, corner shelves and lots of play food. It is known for its two doors and three windows that swing open. 

“We would play from sun up until sundown, then we would get called in at dark,” said Meg Brown, John’s daughter and Railee’s mother.

Beverly would check on her daughters by serving Kool-Aid and Cheetos. “There is nothing like having a house just your size in the backyard,” she said. 

The playhouse moved for the fourth time when the Dukes moved to Meadow Drive. It got a fresh coat of powder blue paint, then sat empty for much of the early 2000s.  

Beverly cleaned out the playhouse in late March for Railee and posted photos on Facebook. 

“So many people have commented to me about how they remember playing in that house – all ages,” said Beverly, who plans to lead more improvements this summer that includes yet another painting. 

One recent sunny afternoon, Railee pretended to eat an ice cream cone on the front porch of the playhouse. Rocking in her mother’s rocking chair, it looks like she could spend hours there. 

Her mother and Aunt Katie reminisced about their playhouse days while watching her.

The fourth generation playhouse makes Railee’s great-grandmother, Jan, smile just as much as it did years ago.  

“It’s wonderful we got so much mileage out of it,” Jan said. “If those walls could talk, there would be many stories.”