January 24th, 2013 by Peggy Farabaugh
Last year we had so much interest from customers about the history of Vermont made furniture, we started an encyclopedia of sorts. Did you know that Vermont furniture making history can be traced back to the 17th century? And by the 18th century almost every town in Vermont had woodworkers making furniture, tools and utensils.
Wood products became the single most important manufacturing industry in Vermont during the 19th century. It was then that Vermont made furniture and wood products began their long history of export to customers all over the U.S. and abroad. Wood furniture, wooden cutting boards and bowls, bowling pins, baskets, drumsticks, toys, musical instruments, golf tees, cheese boxes, wooden dolls, gun racks, Scrabble tiles, snowshoes, clothes pins, and wooden shipping boxes were (and continue to be) all products of a thriving Vermont woodworking industry.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to a growing fine furniture industry was the Green Mountain Forest which covered 90% of Vermont in the 1760s. In the 1700s Vermont contained extensive forests of various tree species that were 6 feet in diameter and as high as thirteen-story buildings; some more than 300 years old. Wood created an identity for many Vermont towns that became known for logging, lumber mills, and a continuous succession of wood products manufacturers.
In some towns, the Vermont made furniture and wood industries provided income for the majority of the population. Technology and products changed with the times to increase production and efficiency, meet market demand, and capitalize on popular trends and tastes. Owners of the mills and factories became community leaders who took responsibility for the commercial and civic growth of their towns.
Craftsmen hailing from Wilmington, Norwich, Middlebury, Shaftsbury, Rutland, Charlotte, Putney and Bennington were among the master craftsmen of 18th and 19th century Vermont. Some prominent luxury, custom furniture makers of the time include: George Stedman of Norwich, Vermont, c. 1800-20, Asahel (b. 1759) and Martin (1778-c. 1830) Cheney of Putney, Vermont, 1798-1803, Hastings Warren (1779-1845), of Middlebury, Vermont and Levi Pitkin (1774-1854) of Montpelier, Vermont, c. 1800. Their work adorned the homes and offices of the world’s rich and famous.
H.T. Cushman Furniture in North Bennington, VT was one of the most prominent furniture companies in America, opening their colonial furniture business in 1892 and exporting from Vermont to the rest of the United States and overseas.
Antique dealers throughout the Green Mountain State display relics of the early Vermont furniture industry. The Shelburne Museum, Bennington Museum and Skinner Auctioneers have recently showcased Vermont made furniture collections and pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries. Check out the Vermont Wood Manufacturer’s Association website for further information about the history of woodworking in Vermont.