Properties Bought By American Girl Doll Creator Answers the Question: ‘What If History Was Cuter?’

Pleasant Rowland, creator of the American Girl dolls I coveted but never owned, now owns much of an upstate New York town I cannot afford to visit

Properties Bought By American Girl Doll Creator Answers the Question: ‘What If History Was Cuter?’
Image:Craig F. Walker (Getty Images)

It would be disingenuous of me to begin what will shortly be a completely informational blog that features none of this writer’s residual bitterness without the following disclaimer: I wanted a fucking Felicity doll my entire childhood and never got one because 1) we could not afford it 2) my father believed that playing with dolls in childhood directly contributed to teen pregnancy by encouraging young girls to mimic maternity at too early an age. End of disclaimer.

Pleasant Rowland, creator of American Girl Dolls, has now made a playhouse of a whole-ass New York town. For the uninitiated, Rowland’s epochal dolls taught an entire generation of 20th-century American children whose parents had $70 laying around to spend on plastic figurines with glimmering Kanekalon tresses that American history was cute as shit and full of very adorable outfits and hats that somehow cost just as much as the dolls themselves. I think there was also something feminist about the doll’s backstories too, but again I do not know because I only held one once at my rich friend’s house, and it was a really lame one like Kirsten.

This leads us to the present-day where, for the past two decades, Rowland, $700 million richer after selling her doll company to Mattel, has been buying up rundown buildings and farmhouses in the town of Aurora, New York then restoring them to greater glory than even the past bestowed, according to former Jezebel writer Clio Chang’s recent piece for Curbed:

“Rowland has already set up five historical inns and renovated a restaurant in this Finger Lakes town; the latest addition is a 15,000-square-foot luxury spa that opened this fall, overlooking pastoral Cayuga Lake and, as the New York Post noted in a glowing write-up in November, “350 acres with alfalfa and lavender fields, tranquil ponds and scenic nature trails.”

And though there have been some grumblings from the 724 people who already lived in Aurora, home to Rowland’s alma mater Wells College, that the town was historical enough already, photographs reveal that the past absolutely would have been better with more lavender and some reflecting pools. The crisp, white exteriors of the charmingly old-fashioned buildings are now replete with mood lighting and chaise lounges, as if Nine Perfect Strangers met Colonial Williamsburg so that instead of learning to churn butter or whatever, visitors might be treated to a 90-minute demonstration on the Swedish tradition of massage.

However, like the dolls of yore, most of us will likely not relish the archaic delights of Aurora, from the imported elms now lining Main Street to the decor of each of the town’s buildings, the interiors of which now match different eras of American history by way of West Elm imaginings. Those of us who need money for things that aren’t $40 doll dresses likely also cannot afford the $165 Abhyanga Massage in the town spa, which, ironically, “costs only $1 more than a spa bundle for a doll,” as Chang pointed out. However, preservation remains important, and it’s academically significant that we’ve captured the American spa tradition for posterity.

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