Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park (Photo: www.oldhickory.com)
An Indiana company with roots in the nineteenth century makes furniture that lasts, and we mean really lasts. Old Hickory Furniture Co. made the dining chairs for Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park in 1904, and they’re still in use. Imagine the number of worn out hikers and rambunctious kids who’ve plopped down on those seats since 1906 -- it must be well into the millions.
FDR’s presidential retreat in Warm Springs was full of Old Hickory furniture. The presidential retreat at Camp David placed an order in 1955. In the ‘40s, the firm hired famous designers, including Russell Wright, to collaborate on a “modern” line of Old Hickory. Today, you’ll find the rustic-looking sofas and chairs in the famous Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, Rainforest Cafes, the Fort Wilderness Resort at Disney World, and many national park lodges.
In the nineteenth century, pioneers harvested hickory for furniture because the saplings grew straight and slender -- not exceeding two to three inches in diameter -- and produced very hard wood. Old Hickory Furniture Co. started in an abandoned church in Martinsville, borrowing the nickname of President Andrew Jackson.
"Andrew Jackson" rockers (Photo: www.oldhickory.com)
In business since 1898 under several different owners, Old Hickory moved to 403 S. Noble St. in Shelbyville in 1982, where it occupies an 1887 factory that formerly housed the Shelbyville Desk Company. The company still makes rustic-looking furniture of hickory -- a fast-growing, renewable resource that’s now imported from Tennessee and Mississippi. “It’s sort of like a weed,” says Bob Morrison, VP of sales and son of the company owner, “but a good weed. It’s the hardest wood in North America.”
Fifty employees turn out chairs, rockers, sofas, ottomans, bar stools, benches, hall trees, a variety of tables, bedsteads and more, including some of the original designs. The furniture uses the mortise and tenon assembly, with seats and backs of handwoven by the company’s artisans in cane, rattan and leather. Check out the products online at www.oldhickory.com.
“The furniture-making process hasn’t changed, and our methods are better than ever. If people maintain it, everything we produce can last as long as the chairs at Old Faithful Inn,” Morrison adds, pointing out that Yellowstone annually does off-season chair maintenance.
You can take a factory tour, but you have to plan ahead. Old Hickory is a small company, and Morrison is the only one who conducts tours. To arrange a tour, he requests that you email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Hidden Gems Indiana
Indiana Landmarks uses insider knowledge to highlight historic places worth a visit, from the quirky to the sublime: small towns, neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, parks, cemeteries, scenic drives, museums -- you get the idea. Learn more about Indiana Landmarks at www.indianalandmarks.org.