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Lambert Hitchcock, Chairmaker
About a hundred and thirty years ago, a young Connecticut Yankee with an eye to business left his native town of Cheshire and settled in the northern part of the Nutmeg State where he established a chair factory near a branch of the Farmington River. His name was Lambert Hitchcock. He was descended from a Hitchcock who had been part of the Puritan exodus from England, and his family had lived in and near New Haven since 1639.
His factory began in a modest way by making chair parts which were shipped chiefly to Charleston, South Carolina, and other southern cities. The business grew rapidly and it was not long before there was enough of a settle ment around the industry to warrant giving it the name of Hitchcockville. By 1822 he had stopped shipping chair parts and had begun making chairs, particularly the painted "fancy" sort which is now synonymous with his name.
The design of this chair originated with Thomas Sheraton and such chairs were made in America when Hitchcock was still a boy. American chairmakers modified the design to suit their public and these simple chairs became popular in New England, New York, and as far west as Ohio. Hitchcock originated no design but, like his fellow craftsmen, modified those in vogue. For instance, the seats of his chairs are wider in front than in back. The rung between the two front legs was delicately turned and the backs had a curved top.Treatment of the broad back splat also varied. It was a simple chair, well made and easy to handle. That and the hand-done stencil decoration of the back was probably what kept them in favor for the thirty-odd years of their making, and today finds them cherished, especially in sets of six or eight, in the modern home.
At the height of his career, Hitchcock had a hundred or more employeesmen, women, and children. The men made the chairs, the women did the stencil decoration, and the children put on the first coat of paint, always a dark red Hitchcock made a good chair and took enough pride in his work to put his name on the wooden strip at the back of the rush seat. Today the name "Hitchcock" is applied to this type of painted chair, whether it bears his label or not.
Naturally, however, a chair marked "L. Hitchcock, Warranted," "L. Hitchcock, Hitchcockville, Ct.," or "Hitchcock, Alford& Co., is more valuable than an unlabeled one. Also it fixes the approximate date when it was made. A chair bearing the third label would date between 1829 and 1843, the years when Lambert was in partnership with his brother-in-law, Alfred Alford. In addition to the popular side chair, Hitchcock made an eight-legged settee with a triple connected back that showed its close relation to the painted "fancy" chair (Illustration 13). Also made at his factory were Boston rockers, settees equipped with rockers, and the Cape Cod rocker or settee cradle. Indeed he was one of the first to make rocking chairs as a factory product. Before the 1820's rockers were made separately and added to a straight chair, which was probably what happened when Benjamin Franklin realized that these appendages need not be confined exclusively to cradles.
The Cape Cod rocker was a contemporary of the Boston rocker, being made from about 1825 to 1850. It was a settee on rockers with stencil decoration similar to the Boston rocker and the painted "fancy" chair. Added to it was a fence-like attachment which transformed one end of it into a cradle. It was one of the few labor-saving devices of the early nineteenth century. The baby could be laid on a pillow and the mother could sit at the other end, catch up on her sewing, knitting or other stint, and rock a child and herself in comfort.
Such pieces were produced mostly in New England, Hitchcockville being one of the factories making them but by no means the only one. A rarity among them is one designed for twins. With this, the fence attachments were two in number and placed at either end. The baby sitter occupied the space in the middle. She may or may not have had much time for either knitting or sewing.