Rounded Rectangle:


In 1886, many of the business leaders in town were looking for a way to increase the number of manufacturing jobs.  When a long time chair manufacturer from West Paris, Mr. James H. Barrows, came to Bethel looking for a place to relocate his business, he was greeted sympathetically by many. In took no time to call a special town meeting where an initial $8,000 was raised to build a town owned building that would house a chair factory large enough to accommodate Mr. Barrows.  This initiative by the town was in keeping with Maine’s constitution which encouraged this type of economic development by towns without first having to get legislative approval for the enterprise.


6-26-1886: Bethel: (from 1886 minutes of town meetings) Page 492. (The following is the petition for the town to vote on raising money to buy land and build a factory.) “We the undersigned citizens and voters in said town of Bethel would respectfully request that you call a meeting of the legal voters of said town to be held at Rialto Hall in said Bethel on Saturday the third day of July A.D. 1886 at 1-30 o’clock PM to act on the following Articles, to wit; -


1st To choose a moderator to preside over said meeting.


2nd To see if the town will vote to raise a sufficient sum of money to erect, purchase or otherwise procure buildings, mills and lots to be leased at a rent for the manufacture of chairs and furniture, and to determine the amount of said sum of money the manner in which it shall be raised, and how it shall be disbursed for the purposes above named.


3rd To see if the town will vote as exempt from taxation for a term not exceeding ten years any buildings or mills which may be erected, purchased or otherwise procured with said town together with lands on which they are situated and which are used in connection therewith for yards and all machinery with said building or mills, such buildings or mills to be used for the manufacture of lumber into furniture.


4th To act upon any other matter that may legally come before said meeting.


Dated at Bethel June 26th AD. 1886.


W.E. Skillings, Ceylon Rowe, T.H. Chapman, Hiram Bonny, S.A. Brock, H.B. Clough, C. Bisbee, Seth Walker, S.B. Twitchell, J.C. Billings, A.E. Herrick, S.S. Abbott, John M. Philbrook, G.R. Wiley, A.B. Godwin, S.F. Gibson, G.P. Bean”



7-9-1886 Advertiser: Bethel: Over 200 voters were present at the town meeting last Saturday. It was a unanimous vote of the meeting to appropriate $5,000 for the building of a factory 120 by 38 feet with two stories and a basement to be leased to J.H. Barrows at 7 percent, per annum, for the manufacture of Shaker chairs. The chair factory at Bethel is a sure thing this time. The town voted at the Saturday meeting to put up the building, put in the engine, boiler and shafting. The committee have taken a bond of a lot of land of W.L. Chapman, below the depot and will commence operations at once.  J.H. Barrows of West Paris will bring is chair business here.


How Bethel Got A Chair Factory  West Paris had been the “county seat” of chair manufacturing for a number of years. The reason for James Barrows coming to Bethel to start a new chair factory may be better understood after reading letters to the editor of The Oxford County Advertiser that were printed in July of 1886.


The Kimball Chair Co. had moved to West Paris from New York. This company seemed to absorb most of the manufacturing resources available in West Paris. Seeing his support erode in West Paris, Barrows decided to pursue offers from unnamed parties in Bethel. It was this situation that resulted in Bethel voting to invest in public works – building the Bethel chair factory.


8-3-1886 (Democrat):

Bethel: Monday ground was broken for the new chair factory.  Benjamin R. Bryant will do the stone work for the building foundation; B.S. Bartlett is doing the excavation; Berlin Mills Company will supply the lumber for the frame; covering boards will come from A.S. Bean (West Bethel); Charles Dunn of Auburn will supply the brick. At this point they hope to have the building ready by October 1st.



Bethel: Special town meeting: (minutes page 500)

Article 1. To elect a moderator.

 Article 2. To see if a sum of money will be raised to complete buildings for the manufacture of chairs or other wooden products; to equip same with steam power and heating apparatus and main shafting.

 Article 3. To act on other matters that may be brought up.

 William E. Skillings was elected Moderator.  Petitioners for this meeting were: C. Bisbee, G.F. French, G.P. Bean, E.H. Bonny, R.A. Frye, Pinckney Burnham, Hiram Young, Ceylon Rowe, D.M. Freeman, F.C. Bartlett, J.W. Gerrish, C.H. Harris, William Sanderson, A.M. True and C. Wormell.

 Article 3:  Voted that the town treasurer be authorized to hire that sum of money and that the money so raised be expended by the present building committee (S.B. Twitchell, S.D. Philbrook and Ceylon Rowe)



Next Page


December 24, 1886

 “The steam was put on the boiler of the chair factory for the first time last Tuesday and everything worked like a charm even if the concern did cost the town of Bethel $8,000. “


December 27, 2008

The Bethel Chair Factory


Photo of the Bethel Chair Factory, above, was taken circa 1903 and appeared in special illustrated edition of The Bethel News , January 6, 1904.  At this time, the original Bethel Chair Company had been reorganized as the Bethel Manufacturing Company. Therefore, the large sign shown on the side of the mill building read “Chairs  Bethel Manufacturing Company  Rockers”. In background mountain is Locke Mountain.


Photo courtesy of Eric Wight.


Compiled by

Donald G. Bennett

PO Box 763

Bethel, Maine 04217

Contact me

In writing a history of Bethel in 1891, historian William Lapham entered this about the chair company in the chapter on industry:


“One of the most important manufactures in town is that of chairs, by the Bethel Chair Company. The town furnished the buildings at a cost of eighty-five hundred dollars, in eighteen eighty-five (1886), and James H Barrows, formerly in the same business at West Paris, leased them and operated in them for about two years, and then the Bethel Chair Company was organized with a capital of twenty thousand dollars, and James Barrows was made president and general manager, Josiah U. Purington, secretary, and Hannibal G. Brown, treasurer.  It is one of the largest chair factories in the country, and turns out the finest kind of work, giving employment to about sixty workmen.”

In June 1895, The Bethel News, a new weekly newspaper appeared .  (For historical purposes, the new paper’s advertising provided a windfall of information about Bethel merchants, traders and manufacturers.  From the following ad, we learned that in addition to manufacturing, the Bethel Chair Company was in the furniture retail business from its store in the Rialto skating rink on Main Street.  Text of the chair company ad follows:





Furniture — We wish to call attention to the fact that we have concluded to add to our business a complete line of

FURNITURE at Retail and are prepared to offer Extremely Low Prices.


Oak Chambersuits, Sideboards, Extension, Library and Center Tables, Couches, Lounges, Spring Beds, Mattresses, Easy Chairs, Revolving Chairs………… and in fact most anything in the furniture line.


  If you are contemplating furnishing a home or any part of a home, now is the time to do it, as the bottom is reached in ——House Furnishing Goods — and a rise is sure to come.


Call and see us and get our prices on

Carpets which were never so cheap as at the present time. 



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