From the August 30, 1963 edition of the Vineyard Gazette by Joseph Chase Allen:

Who knows about a furniture factory on the Vineyard? Situated in Oak Bluffs, probably on Siloam avenue? Such names as those of the late Charles Adams and Brandon Mayhew, have been mentioned as associated with this business, but it has been indicated that there were other and older men before them.

There is evidence to be found still, that the Island patronized the establishment of a considerable extent in its day. From the Vineyard Gazette of Feb. 5, 1886, this item was taken:

“The old fashioned pew seats at Association Hall have been taken up and the hall is to be reseated with modern settees or chairs . . . .”

This item has attracted attention among those who have heard something of furniture manufacturing on the Island and who also know what those “modern settees” were like. That there is a connection, cannot be doubted, for the reason that the dates correspond to other matters which have been handed down as tradition.

The settees, which may still be seen in Association Hall, better known today as the Tisbury town hall, are of the all-wood variety, with scooping seats, milled from heavy softwood planks, with turned legs, branched with flat framework, and with backs which are fashioned in the “frame and spoke” fashion of chairs of the period. Similar settees are to be found in various other public buildings on the Island and in summer, on the sidewalks for the convenience of those who would stop and rest awhile. Tradition suggests that these settees and others of the folding variety, plus chairs of various types were once made in quantity on the Vineyard and in the Oak Bluffs factory.

The folding settees could have been seen until quite recently, in the West Tisbury town hall, with their seats of heavy canvas, tacked to the frames, the whole designed to fold into a narrow compass for storage, the better to clear the floor for dancing, it is believed. It may be worthy of mention that antique dealers have noticed some of these settees and have indicted an interest in them because of their style and apparent age.

But the chairs are something else. One type only is actually known to have been made in this factory, the low-backed wooden chair with the hand-hold in the back for moving sometimes called a “captain’s chair” by modern manufacturers who have imitated this chair to some extent.

Sixty years ago there were many of these chairs to be found in Vineyard homes and they were all said to have been made by the proprietors of the Oak Bluffs factory. It is interesting to recall, also, that where the man of the house, who commonly used one of these chairs, was of unusual proportions, either large or small, the chair seemed especially designed for him. Thus some possessed an unusually high seat to better accommodate an extremely tall man. Of such, it was casually stated that “So-and-so, knowing who the chair was far, made the legs inches longer than the usual pattern called for.”

Oak Bluffs, from very early days, was a woodworking village. At least two woodworking shops were in operation there and if tradition may be credited, they were kept busy. The furniture factory was one, although it is quite possible that this establishment made other things, or parts of items other than furniture. As to the other, it turned out the “gingerbread” work with which so many of the “Lady Book houses” are still decorated. It also made veranda posts, and jig-sawed braces of angle-pieces, which fitted between the tops of these posts and the veranda plates. In both these shops there were folding chairs, resembling deck-chairs, certain rocking-chairs, as well, and quantities of jig-sawed work used both in furniture and interior trim in some of the houses. There is no tradition connecting these latter items with either of the Oak Bluffs shops, but the similarity of the work suggests that the same designers may have made them.

Brandon Mayhew was a West Tisbury man, who set up and operated a shop of his own in that village, but it has been said of him that when the Oak Bluffs furniture factory closed its doors, he carried on his own wood-working business nearer home. He it was, according to the tradition, who built some of the oversized chairs referred to.

The Vineyard historian, Dr. Charles E. Banks, seems not to have made any mention of this factory, which perhaps is not strange since it had been discontinued years before his history was published. Yet the story was known to many. Adams was probably dead, but Mayhew was living and still making “turnings” at his West Tisbury shop.

Someone may know more about this industry and who was associated with it. The building, supposed to have been used as the factory, has been torn down, but its history should be interesting. Furthermore, owners of genuine Vineyard-made furniture may possess more of value than they realize, if such pieces can be identified.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox