American Chairs, Made in Connecticut

Jun 23, 2014

There is something very American about a Windsor chair. Although its name points to England, where the chair’s style and manufacture emerged in the early 1700s, this immigrant furniture found its way into every American home, from a restful rocker in a small Yankee farm house to the seats of the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Not surprisingly, more than one Windsor chair can be found in Making Connecticut, the Connecticut Historical Society’s ongoing exhibit covering more than 400 years of Connecticut history. The chair’s simple design made it relatively easy to build and affordable to buy. In the 18th and early 19th centuries both large and small Connecticut workshops employed apprentices and indentured servants, who often created the separate chair parts in large batches and built the chairs in an assembly-line fashion, cutting cost and time. A typical shop would have a bin full of chair-back spindles, for example, ready to add to a finished seat.

On display in Making Connecticut are a number of Windsor chairs from the Allen shop in Windham, Connecticut. Amos Denison Allen (1774 - 1855) owned a 190-acre farm and ran a shop that employed as many as twelve apprentices at one time. Allen began his career as an apprentice himself at the age of sixteen, working under contract for a furniture maker in Lisbon, Connecticut beginning in 1790. Windsor chairs were shipped up and down the East Coast and transported locally by peddlers on horse-drawn carts. Allen shipped his Windsor chairs to his brother-in-law and agent in Savannah, Georgia. For large shipments, the chair parts were often packed separately to save space. Allen painted his chairs the typical colors of green, yellow, red, black, and brown. Some of the Windsor chairs in the CHS collection appear black today because the green paint has actually darkened over time.

Discover more stories about early Connecticut craftsmen—and others who shaped Connecticut’s history—by exploring Making Connecticut at the Connecticut Historical Society today.  Making Connecticut is open Tuesday through Friday from 12-5 and Saturdays from 9-5.