The Adirondack Chair and other Woodenware
History Articles written originally for the Sacandaga Express – by Lorraine Frasier
Although timber was the main industry in the early history of Sacandaga Valley, the valley was also home to businesses that utilized it’s native lumber to built many things.
Most of the woodenware and other factories started as sawmills and later evolved into the production of household and everyday items. The following were all located in the town of Edinburg.
Batchellerville was a hub for many of these factories and in the settlement and nearby areas items produced were: rocking chairs, brooms ,rakes, bowls clothespins, brushes, washboards and even caskets. The peak of prosperity in Batchellerville was experienced between 1850 and 1880. Population at the time was 350.
Charles M. Sumner in Beechers Hollow across the river from Batchellerville made an excellent quality rake which was sold nationwide an exported to Canada. In 1888 Sumner received a large order of 12,000 rakes from a New York export house to be sent to Germany Austria and Belgium. By 1889 the business had been increased so much it was necessary to run both day and night.
Before 1828 Eli Beecher built a sawmill and dam on Beecher creek where the current Copeland Covered Bridge stands today. In a deed dated 1828 Beecher conveyed to Leonard and Arad Copeland land on which a carriage factory was built.
The brothers possessed several skills including wheel wright, and metal work,. They also made cabinets, furniture, and coffins. Much of their business was done by barter according to old record books. After Arad died in 1884 his son in law inventor John W Latcher took over the carriage factory for his shop. This building still stands today.
Peleg Tennant built a water powered saw mill in the settlement known as Tennantville. His settlement flourished because of it. Tennant would cart his lumber in horse drawn wagons to Fish House where he would be met by teams from Amsterdam who would distribute it throughout the area. Soon he added a shop for the manufacture of grain measures, butter bowls, chopping bowls, and other household items.
Just prior to 1880 the water power mill burned and Tennants son, Sherman, built a steam powered mill and created a clothespin factory where thirty men were employed year around.
Necessity is the mother of invention, so the adage goes, and in lumber and hunting camps the use of branches, twigs, and birch bark was pressed into use to create the rustic furniture of those early days. Side tables would be made with tops of birch bark. Some were painted, or covered in leather or canvas or simply left as they were. Chairs would also be constructed of branches with the bark left unpeeled . These primitive treasures are still very highly sought after.
In Essex County Approx two hours north of the Sacandaga area in 1903 the precursor to today’s Adirondack chair was designed by Thomas Lee. Lee was on vacation in Westport, NY in the Adirondack Mountains and needed outdoor chairs for his summer home. He tested the first designs on his family.
The original Adirondack chair was made with eleven pieces of wood, cut from a single board. It had a straight back and seat, which were set at a slant to sit better on the steep mountain inclines of the area. It also featured wide armrests, which became a hallmark of the Adirondack chair.
Today’s Adirondack chairs usually feature a rounded back and contoured seat. The style, After arriving at a final design for the “Westport plank chair,” Lee offered it to Harry Bunnell, a carpenter friend in Westport, who was in need of a winter income.
Bunnell quickly realized the chair was the perfect item to sell to Westport’s summer residents, and apparently without asking Lee’s permission, Bunnell filed for and received patent in 1905.Bunnell manufactured his plank chairs for the next twenty years. His “Westport Chairs” were all signed and made of hemlock in green or medium dark brown. The modern name refers to the Adirondack Mountains, which Westport is near.
Adirondack chairs are becoming popular as outdoor seating at cafes because the flat armrests are suitable for setting food and beverages on, making it possible to provide individual seating without tables.
Writers Note : The Adirondack chair has come to Northville to take it’s place among other notable celebrations such as the Moosefest painted moose in Bennington VT and the painted Thoroughbreds on Broadway in Saratoga.
Fourteen chairs painted by the local artists , sponsored by the Northville United Presbyterian Chruch, are up for silent auction until labor day week end and can be seen at the Northville businesses, local area restaurants’ and the visitors center at Vail Mills.
Each one of these hand painted chairs were cut out individually; no kits were used in their construction. The silent auction ended Sept. 6 th 2009 but the photos of the chairs are still able to be seen on the visitsacandaga.com website. This event will happen again next year.
by Lorraine Frasier