This storybook structure was originally designed as Sweden’s pavilion at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Constructed in Sweden of native pine and cedar, this model schoolhouse was dismantled, packed in crates, and shipped across the Atlantic, then re-erected by Swedish craftsmen on the Exposition grounds. Furnished with desks and chalkboards, and staffed by Swedish teachers, the popular pavilion welcomed many visitors.
Impressed by the ornament and utility of the structure, Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park, secured an appropriation from the City of New York to purchase it. In 1877, the little building was dismantled once again and reconstructed on the west side of the park.
In 1939, New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses created a touring marionette theater to perform on playgrounds during the summer and in school auditoriums during the winter. Eight years later, in 1947, the troupe moved into the Swedish School House, which thereafter served as its workshop and headquarters. In 1973, the interior of the building was redesigned to incorporate a small theater for indoor marionette performances, as well as space for the traveling theater.
Painstakingly restored in 1996, the building retains much of its original 19th-century materials, including the patterned shingles, simple hardware, and hand-rubbed interior paneling. Audiences continue to enjoy marionette performances of classic tales with contemporary twists. Talented craftsmen make marionettes for each production, contributing to the archive of historic marionettes every year.
The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre is owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, operated by the City Parks Foundation, and is a member of the Historic House Trust.