I bet you don’t ever look to see what’s on the bottom side of your furniture. I didn’t. Not till today.
The featured photo on this post is the bottom side of a most special piece of furniture, the rocking chair that belonged to my deceased brother. It has its own story (read only if you want tears).
David’s chair is maybe one of the most important memory item in my house. Why did I decide to look underneath?
I didn’t. On Saturday I moved all my living room furniture off the dirty carpet, so I can get it steam cleaned this week. All that furniture is piled in the adjacent tiled space. I lifted David’s chair and sat it on the couch, and it’s almost in my face from where I sit at my adjacent table I work from.
While eating breakfast today I noticed first the stencil text that looks like
943 R Duxbury “Interesting” I thought, might that be the name of the craftsman who made it? Below is a faded seal with what looks like a manufacturer’s name, with about a third of the letters faded. The top word which shows just “TEMP__” is most surely “TEMPLE” but below– is it “SHARP”? Finally I made it out to be “STUART” as a guess.
A pretty good one. Most of the results I find are sale pages for Temple Stuart chairs, tables, and hutches, or antique sites where people send info in hopes of finding they have a rare piece of furniture.
Sadly this kind of stuff referred to as “American Brown Furniture” and is not very valuable. That’s not my interest, David’s chair is quite banged up. I think one of my dogs gnawed on the arm rests.
I found the 2010 obituary for Donald Stuart who had been President of the Temple Stuart Furniture company; it’s not clear here if he was the founder or if it was a family business. He lived in Baldwinville, MA. There is a timely image of a 1967 ad looks like it is is in the height of American Brown Furniture era:
As a sideline, Stuart’s bio in Furniture world leads me to the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library on Highpoint North Carolina:
With more than 5,000 furniture and design specific volumes, The Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library is the largest furniture specialty library in the world. The rare book collection contains volumes published since 1640 and includes a collection of the original works of 18th century furniture masters Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite, as well as a complete 26 volume set of Diderot’s Encyclopedia published in 1776.
This is one of the few, if not the only place in the world where design professionals, scholars, students, and the public can don a pair of white gloves and examine the original works of the pioneer designers in our industry.
The library also contains rare drawings and furniture details. It is a treasure trove of inspiration, information and illustration for anyone interested in design.
Maybe the most curious link came to an EPA site report on the Temple-Stuart site on Baldwinville MA, this is most definitely the location of the Temple-Stuart furniture makers, it’s where my brother’s chair came from!
The Temple-Stuart site is a 23-acre property with five adjoining buildings and a garage located in a largely residential area at 4 Holman Street, Baldwinville, Massachusetts. Baldwinville is one of four villages which comprise the Town of Templeton, whose population is 7000. The Temple-Stuart facility is approximately three eighths of a mile from the center of Baldwinville.
Building A (the “Mill/Assembly Building”) is a two-story, 12,500 square foot (ft2), concrete brick building located on the southeastern portion of the property, which reportedly contained a tool shop, dryer rooms, and a boiler room. Transformers were formerly located on the lower floor of the southwestern portion of the building.
Building B (“the Frame Stain Shop”) is a 7,500 ft2 two-story concrete brick and wood building adjoining the western side of Building A. Most of its windows are broken, and much of the roof and roof vents have begun to collapse. Building B reportedly also contained a storage room and boiler room.
The site was first occupied in 1884 by Holman and Harris (H&H), a manufacturer of wooden containers, including pails, tubs, and buckets. In 1909, H&H ceased operations and vacated the site. In 1910, the Temple-Stuart Company began manufacturing wooden furniture at the site. Temple-Stuart constructed various buildings and additions to existing structures.
The company is thus named for the Stuart Family and its location is near Templeton, MA. The company was started in 1910. Since Donald Stuart’s obituary stated he was born in 1925, then I guess his father started the furniture company which built David’s rocking chair.
The reason the Temple-Stuart facility is on the EPA site is because in the 1990s they found underground storage tanks with fuel and benzene in them, and thus it was designated an environmental remediation site.
That’s about the end of my investigation. I have no idea what “943 R Duxbury” is — I imagined it was the name of a person who made it? Just an inventory code? The old version of a QR-code? There is a Duxbury in Massachusetts but it is 100 miles from Baldwinville.
I asked my sisters if they knew much about the chair. The color was similar to the maple bedroom set I had as a kid- two dressers, a bed frame/headboard, and I think a clothes tree. I do remember that it was the furniture my dad had as a kid. I thought maybe the chair was part of the set, but my older sister (whose adult son still uses the old dresser) said no, that the chair was a gift for my Mom when David was born.
So after getting curious about the information on the bottom of an old chair, I have no further insight into the family store, but do have a few tangents of arcane information about a family furniture company from Massachusetts, whose legacy is left now as a hazardous waste site.
One never knows where curiosity paths will lead you, and sometimes, it’s just the time spent searching that matters more than what you find.