By ANGIE CARNATHAN
Elizabeth Blake Casano said December 1983 was an exciting year for her. She was a 5-year-old little girl living in Macon, and she had a very special gift headed her way. Blake's grandfather, Floyd Blake, had a surprise for Elizabeth — a surprise he began soon after her birth; a surprise that would eventually be handed down through his family.
"My grandparents, Floyd and Ann Blake, lived in St. Louis, Mo., where he worked full time," Casano said. "However, luckily for me, he had a Southern belle granddaughter who he thought needed a proper Southern plantation home of her own."
Her grandfather had all the tools and talent; all he needed to do is find the right home and scale it down for a child.
"I spent time searching Southern plantation house plans and going to doll house stores trying to figure out how to make this look the way I wanted it to,” said Floyd Blake, now 87 years old. “I am not sure now why this particular home stood out to me — that was 30 years ago. I am sure this home caught my eye on a (trip) once or something. But after looking at what was available to the public at local stores in St. Louis, I knew I could make a better dollhouse than anyone had done before."
The plantation home Floyd Blake settles on is named Shadows on the Teche, and it is located in New Iberia, La. The home received its name because of the shadows the Spanish moss across the live oaks cast on the home located right near the Bayou Teche. Shadows was constructed between 1831 and 1834 by a sugar planter named David Weeks and his wife.
Floyd’s smaller version is still quite large at 5 feet long and 3 feet tall because it is built to a 1-inch-to-1-foot scale. The seven-room dollhouse is open in the back and is complete with stained plank flooring, a grand foyer with staircase and period specific molding including handmade front doors.
"Even the brick skirt and pillars the front columns stand on are perfectly hand-painted," Casano said.
Today, Elizabeth, daughter of Mike and Linda Blake of Starkville, is now married to Justin Casano and lives in Columbus.
"We have a daughter, Blake Elizabeth, who will be turning 4 years old in a few short weeks," Elizabeth Casano said.
Mike and Linda Blake said they have been storing the dollhouse at their home hidden away in the rafters of a workshop in their backyard for quite some time.
"My husband, Mike, always looked forward to sharing the dollhouse with a granddaughter of his own one day," Linda Blake said. "After all, it was his father that had made the dollhouse for his daughter all those years ago."
Now that his granddaughter, Blake Elizabeth, was old enough to play with dolls and take care of something so valuable, Mike Blake said he decided it was time to bring the heirloom to the next generation.
"It was an exciting afternoon for me, my son Jim and my son-in-law Justin when we uncovered the dollhouse and loaded it for the trip to Columbus to surprise Blake Elizabeth," Mike Blake said.
To add to the nostalgia of the dollhouse transfer, Linda Blake said she brought the exact dress that Elizabeth Casano had worn as a child when Floyd Blake brought the house to Mississippi from Missouri.
"The dress was special to me because I made the dress myself out of leftover fabric from the bridesmaids’ dresses from my wedding in 1975," Linda Blake said.
For years, Casano said Blake Elizabeth had looked forward to being big enough to wear her mommy’s dress that had a little hidden bell inside that rang when the ruffles were spun.
When Mike and Linda arrived at Justin and Elizabeth’s home in Columbus with the miniature version of Shadows on the Teche, Blake Elizabeth was instantly curious about the house.
"She just asked, 'Who is this for, Papaw? I just love it!'" said Casano. "The house had been hidden all her life, so she had never seen it before."
Mike said he was pleased to tell her it was her's now, and asked if she would like to keep it in her playroom.
"I told her that Grandpa Blake made it for her mommy a long time ago and now it was time for her to have it," Mike Blake said.
Next, Linda Blake said she showed Blake Elizabeth the special dress.
"Blake Elizabeth replied, 'I have the perfect shoes,'" Linda Blake said.
Casano said her daughter put on the special floral ruffled dress her red sparkling shoes, and began playing with the same dollhouse and furniture that brought her the same joy so many years ago.
"What is so amazing is the quality of house is so impeccable you would never know it was almost 30 years old," Casano said. "Every wooden shingle, every porch spindle and every stair tread is still original. It will definitely make it another 30 years to hopefully be played with by Blake Elizabeth’s daughter. Can you imagine playing with a dollhouse made by your great-great grandfather?"
For more information on the original Shadows on the Teche plantation, visit http://www.shadowsontheteche.wordpress.com .