Photo of Grand Rapids Furniture

Grand Rapids Furniture

Most of the information and photos on this website pertains to the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan. However there were over 800 other furniture makers located in West Michigan over the past 180 plus years. So it's pretty hard not to take notice of other quality furniture manufacturers in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. Such as the Grand Rapids Chair Co. who manufactured the demilune server and curved glass china cabinet pictured on this webpage. Both pieces were part of an outstanding 10 piece dining room suite. My best guess is that this unique antique dining furniture was manufactured in the earlier part of of the 1900's. Possibly in the 1910 to 1920 time frame? Demilune (half round) servers are pretty common. However this is the first demilune china cabinet I remenber seeing in my 40 years of buying antique furniture!

Photo of Grand Rapids China Cabinet

The Furniture City
The first cabinet maker in Grand Rapids, Michigan was William Haldane. Who establisted a shop at his home during the year 1837. Owing to their craftsmanship by the year 1876 Grand Rapids furniture makers achieved national recognition at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. From Wikipedia "During the second half of the 19th century, the city became a major lumbering center and the premier furniture manufacturing city of the United States." Grand Rapids became known as "The Furniture City" because of the large quanities of furniture mass-produced there. Also from Wikipedia "In 1881, the Furniture Manufacturers Association (FMA) was organized in Grand Rapids, it was apparently the first furniture manufacturing advocacy group in the country."

The following from a "History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan" published in 1891 tells of early furniture making in Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids Manufactuing of Furniture
To most people of the present day it may seem incredible that, but little more than half a century ago, the rough slab bench or the three-legged stool, was not infrequently an article of kitchen furniture, but such is the fact. The pioneer who had an ax and saw and jackknife and auger deemed him self qualified to fit out his cabin with a plain table, a square-post bedstead, and a few seats, to begin housekeeping. Not many brought to their new homes in the woods a good outfit; but soon they saw the day of improvement.

About 1835 came into the settlement at Grand Rapids two or three who set up foot-lathes and were instrumental in the change from the era of square work to turned work. When William Haldane built his house in 1837, no sooner was the rough sheathing on the frame, and the roof shingled, than he moved in upon a rough board floor. Mrs. Haldane relates that blankets sufficed to cover the windows temporarily, and were not very inconvenient doors. Her husband, being a mechanic, made a door and some sash, and traded other specimens of his work for 8 by 10 window glass. lie cut from an old bootleg hinges for his door. They put up a squarepost bedstead, put in the bedcord, put thereon a straw bed and retired, feeling that they had a comfortable home of their own; and she says she does not know but they were as happy in those days as they have ever been. The house was at the head of what was then and for more than twenty years called Justice street, now the south east corner of Pearl and Ottawa streets, and here for many years he carried on the cabinet making business. Archibald Salmon, who came in 1837, had a cabinet shop near Haldane, on Prospect Hill, for a number of years. Samuel F. Butler was another who made cabinet ware, near the Bridge Street House. In 1849, Abram Snively opened a shop for furniture making, on Monroe street in a building that stood where now is the west side of the Morton House, which he carried on for several years. He afterward moved to Grandville.

Most of the furniture making here was done by hand until about 1848, and it is well to remember that in those days the maker had to learn his trade. William T. Powers came in 1847, and he and Mr. Haldane introduced working by machinery, the former at a shop just above Bridge street by the Canal, the latter at a point some distance below. In 1853 Mr. Haldane began working by steam power instead of water. At that time he had a shop and salesroom near the lower end of Canal street. Mr. Powers' first shop was at the corner of Fountain and Ionia, and his first salesroom was on Canal street, a short distance from Pearl. In 1851 he entered into partnership with E. Morris Ball, and they opened rooms on Pearl street near the Arcade; erecting there a neat wooden building into which they put an "open front" of French plate glass, the first one of that style here (except, perhaps, that in the McConnell block on Monroe street). January 1, 1855, Mr. Powers retired from the firm and the business was continued by Ball, Noyes & Colby.

In 1852, Powers & Ball built a factory on Erie street, and for some time were working about forty men and boys, shipping partly finished chairs and stuffs for McCormick's Reapers in considerable quantities to Chicago; at the same time running a sawmill and making their own lumber, of which they worked up about 300,000 feet a year. In 1853, Eagles & Pullman brought in a stock of furniture and went to manufacturing also, their place being at the corner of Canal street and Crescent avenue. Mr. Eagles died in 1854; the Pullmans afterward went to Chicago, and are the men of Pullman Palace Car fame. In July, 1854, E. W. Winchester formed a partnership with William Haldane in the furniture business, which continued until some time in the next year, after which, the brothers E. W. and S. A. Winchester started in the trade, and built a factory near the foot of Lyon street which, September 17, 1857, passed into the hands of C. C. Comstock, and became the foundation of the business now carried on by Nelson, Matter & Company. From such beginnings, and through such gradations, marking the period between 1835 and 1860, has grown the immense furniture manufacture for which Grand Rapids is now celebrated throughout the world.

A representative of the Detroit Free Press, after an inspection of Grand Rapids furniture factories wrote, in November, 1887, concerning them: Each establishment maintains its own staff of designers, and they are busy the whole year round planning articles of furniture as comfortable, unique and beautiful as the art of man can compass. The designing and execution are alike perfect. The wood carving departments are a wonder in their way. Some of the wood carvers came from Glasgow, having learned their business in the shipyards on the Clyde, carving figure-heads, stem and stern adornments and cabin decorations for the mercantile, naval, racing and pleasure craft of the world. This apprenticeship stood them in good stead. There is no style of carving too intricate for their deft chisels. They could reproduce, if it were required, the carving on the pulpit in St. Gudule's Cathedral at Brussels, one of the most famous bits of woodwork in the world. It is an interesting sight to behold a force of thirty or forty of these handicraftsmen employed in one large room, and to inspect the wonderful variety of work executed there.

Document Source: The above account is from a "History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan" published in 1891 by Albert Baxter. Transcribed for use online by: Ronnie Aungst, Jennifer Godwin, Ed Howe, Tom McCormick, Barbara Jones, Jessica Trotter, Evelyn Sawyer, Amy Brown Cyndi Kuhlman, Julie Powers and Donna Rogers MiGenWeb

For additional information concerning Grand Rapids furniture makers. Please see the following book "Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America's Furniture City". Which features manufacturers of furniture from a past era that were located in the Grand Rapids, MI area!

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