The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
Sometimes questions asked at the Fenton History Research Center do not have a quick and knowledgeable answer.
Pictured is the letterhead found at Lake View Cemetery for the Jamestown Bending Works. A copy of this is now in the collection of the Fenton History Center. This gives us the evidence of the company’s existence and its product and extends our knowledge of the early furniture industry in Jamestown. The research about it has reacquainted us with one of the prominent men of early industrial Jamestown.
One such question was posed by one of the trustees who had found a reference and asked what it meant and then what the product of the factory was. In this case the place was the "bending works" referred to in an entry on the map describing the property owner as "Prop. Bending Works." The property owner was the proprietor of the bending works known as the Jamestown Bending Works. The answer to what did was more a guess on my part when I answered that they probably bent wood for chairs or furniture. A listing for the company was found in only one or two early city directories and no description of product was included.
The 1875 city directory lists the Jamestown Bending Works at Steele Street near Baker with A. S. Prather, Ira A. Frizzle, Ezra Frizzle and J. T. Wilson as the owners. Child's Gazetteer and Business Directory of Chautauqua County for 1873-1874 has the information that A. S. Prather and J. T. Wilson had recently built a building for the Union Butter Pail Company and that it was built to have sections that could be rented out with power provided.
This could be the Prather Building that is given as an address for other businesses or it may be something else. Child's Gazetteer also gives the Jamestown Wood Seat Chair Co., manufacturers of wood seat chairs and Farlin & Van Riper, manufacturers of children's carriage stuff and handles, with the address of the Union Butter Pail Company Building, Steele Street.
The 1875 city directory included the Union Butter Pail Company (A.S. Prather and J. T. Wilson) at Steele near Baker and has an ad for the Jamestown Butter and Oyster Pail Co., (J. L. Harris and Milo Harris), Office and Factory at the Prather Building. Is this the same building with two butter pail manufacturers? By 1875 the Jamestown Wood Seat Chair Company had moved to First Street.
Curiosity kept the Bending Works in the background as I went about doing other activities. Serendipity intervened, and while looking at a certificate at Lake View Cemetery, I found a note written on letterhead from the Jamestown Bending Works, manufacturers of Bent Chair Stuff. So yes, the Jamestown Bending Works was in business to bend wood for chairs and furniture. Some readers may remember the Hometown History column about some chairs we received made by the Jamestown Wood Seat Chair Company that did have the arms and back in one piece bent to the curves for the back and the arms.
The Jamestown Bending Works was another business supporting the early furniture manufacturing in Jamestown. The printed decade on the letterhead was 187- but 82 was written over the "7-."
Was the Bending Works still operating in 1882 or was the paper left over and used for miscellaneous notes?
In 1886, under Bending Works in the classified section of the city directory, E. H. Bemus has the Bending Works at 14 Steele St., and in 1888, E. H. Bemus is listed under Furniture Manufacturers. The 1888 Jamestown Atlas includes E. H. Bemus with the Jamestown Bending Works.
Was this the same bending works started by Prather, and was he still involved in some way?
A. S. Prather was Abraham or Abram S. Prather who was born in Venango County, Pa., in 1841 and died in Jamestown in 1928. He came to Jamestown in about 1870, and according to his obituary and other biographical sketches, he was involved in the lumber and wood business.
Following Prather through the years in some of the city directories, we find him in a variety of businesses, but most of them involve wood in some way. The 1875 New York State Census lists his occupation as "capitalist." From all the different occupations over the years we can see that he was a capitalist in that he was probably the money man behind many of the different businesses in the last quarter of the 1800s.
In 1878-79, Prather was listed as "furniture and undertaker" with an accompanying ad for "Furniture, Upholstered Goods and Feathers, Also Undertaking" at 12 E. Third St. By 1888, he was a lumber dealer and lived at 177 Forest Ave. near where Prather Avenue is today.
In 1899 he was the vice-president of the Chautauqua National Building, Loan and Savings Association, which was a real-estate business. By 1901 he was living at 863 Prendergast Ave. with an occupation of farmer. After 1911 he was retired and lived on Prendergast Avenue until his death in 1928. He was the first commander of the James M. Brown, Post No. 285 of the G.A.R., a member of the First Congregational Church and a Mason. Looking at all the businesses he was engaged in he was certainly a capitalist as listed in the 1875 Census. Today we would call him an entrepreneur.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.