Book recalls when furniture had Jamestown sitting pretty
By DENNIS PHILLIPS
Special to the OBSERVER
JAMESTOWN – It was a cold winter day in 2001 when Clarence C. Carlson started flipping through a couple history books on Chautauqua County.
Little did Carlson know then, but that day was his first step into a new career as a history writer. Now, 13 years later, Carlson has completed his first book, “The Jamestown Furniture Industry: History in Wood 1816-1920.”
“Well in 2001, it was one of those cold winter days. … I pulled out a couple of old books on Chautauqua County history,” he said. “The books were ‘The History of Chautauqua County and Its People,’ volumes two and three. They were books my dad had.”
Carlson’s father, Carl Carlson, was a cabinet maker, who worked for several Jamestown furniture companies. Carlson dedicated the book to the memory of his father.
“Well that is kind of how it all got started. I recognized places like Crawford, Maddox Table Co. and Union National. Those were places my dad worked through the years as a cabinet maker,” he said. “That brought it home as I started to do the history.”
As Carlson continued to look through the two history books, he started making notes. By the time he was done, he said he had written down the names of 53 furniture companies that had been located in Jamestown.
“I didn’t know it (the furniture industry) was that big. I didn’t realize there were that many,” he said. “I then got started doing some research, and in my research, I found 112 companies.”
Carlson, who is a retired purchasing buyer and expeditor, said he continued collecting notes, which turned into an outline. He started doing research at the Fenton History Center and the James Prendergast Library. He kept discovering more books on the history of Jamestown that detailed the furniture industry. He said Andrew Young’s “History of Chautauqua County” and Arthur W. Anderson’s “Conquest of Chautauqua County” also assisted his research. Carlson said he started spending more time at the Fenton, looking through the archives to find photos and material for the book.
“There is a file at the Fenton on Cornell Seaberg. His father was a founder of Seaberg Furniture,” he said. “When he (Cornell) died, he left his archives to the Fenton. Through the Fenton and its archives, I found photos and references to furniture.”
While doing research on his outline, Carlson kept hearing the suggestion he should write a book on his research of the Jamestown furniture industry.
“It was Joni (Blackman, Fenton History Center director) at the history center that said I should make this into a book,” he said. “I had no idea how to do that because it was just an outline. She told me to quit researching and get this thing written.”
From there Carlson found Pam Brown, who had written a book on the history of Panama.
“She was happy to help. With her help, she turned the notes into full sentences and made sense of things,” he said.
Carlson said the furniture industry is the main reason there are so many Scandinavian residents in the area.
“That is why Jamestown has such a large influx of Swedish people because they were cabinet makers in Jamestown,” he said. “This is why there are two pages of Carlsons in the telephone book.”
The new author said he isn’t done yet with his new career. He now plans to write a book on Jamestown’s woolen industry.
“The making of clothing was very big in Jamestown, and employed a lot of people,” he said. “Some of the big buildings still left in Jamestown were built for the woolen industry.”
Published by the History Press in January, Carlson’s book can be purchased at the Fenton History Center’s store in Jamestown. In addition, it is available at several online merchants, including the History Press’s website.