You might drive by one every day, tucked away from the main road.
by George Walker
I drove right by it for years, never suspecting there was a time capsule of American furniture right under my nose. The Spring Hill Historic Home is tucked away out of sight up a long tree-lined gravel road in Massillon, Ohio. The original land grant for the property is dated 1813, when this state was a wilderness, but even then it was quickly changing from one big woods to one big farm.
Its green meadows gave way to urban sprawl, and now the rambling farmhouse is an island. One would hardly guess from its plain white exterior that it’s chock-full of simple furniture pieces from when the land was opening up for settlement. The families that called it home prospered and, over time, added rooms and a menagerie of furniture, mostly spanning the 19th century, from high-style Regency to Victorian, Arts & Crafts, Eastlake and a handful of mongrels of unknown pedigree. The only common denominator is that much of the furniture is handmade, and even the later factory-made pieces were from shops that employed skilled furniture makers.
Close to Home
As much as I like museums in large cities with collections of iconic furniture from America and around the globe, I have a soft spot for local house museums. There is often an opportunity to see the collection up close and more in depth than in an art gallery setting. Usually the big museums have sensors with alarms to keep you at bay, even if all you are doing is bending down for a closer look with your reading glasses on.
Maybe it’s only me, but I find that security guards in the decorative arts sections of large museums are particularly suspicious of woodworkers lingering over a piece of furniture a bit too long.
In contrast, I’ve learned that if I show a genuine interest in the history of a house museum, I’m often granted permission to look closer, even at the undersides and guts of a furniture piece. Yes, I want to look at the exterior of a table or chest, but as a woodworker, I really want to see the maker’s marks. I want to inspect the joinery, see what worked or, often, what joinery didn’t work.
From the February 2018 issue