Adirondack Chairs- A Storied History

Submitted By: Jesse Akre

From the great lodges of New England there come great pieces of furniture in Adirondack chairs. Since the early 1900s, Adirondack chairs have been a staple in the upscale New York area.

Adirondack chairs were made by a man who appreciated life in the area near the Adirondacks. Thomas Lee was vacationing with his family in Westport, New York when he decided there had to be a more comfortable way to sit out on the lawn and enjoy the outdoors. Obviously, picnic blankets were not his idea of a good time, so he started looking for a better option. Wooden table chairs weren’t really the right feel either, as they make you sit up perfectly straight and don’t offer a lot of flexibility for lounging and relaxing while you watch the animals scamper by and the wind in the trees.

      So, Thomas Lee got down to doing some tinkering. He knew generally what he wanted, but had to figure out exactly how to make it. The base components of each chair were the same. They all started with one pine plank and had armrests so the person using them could lounge in comfort. As a way to make sure he was not too bias a judge, he had family members test prototype after prototype until he found one that he thought was just right. But these chairs were not called Adirondack chairs. They were instead called ‘Westport Plank Chairs’, as that’s where he created them and what he created them from.

     The name change came about when he showed someone he thought was a friend, one of his chairs. Lee was trying to help out carpenter friend, Harry Bunnell (who was having tough financial times); by showing him how to make these chairs so he could make some extra cash during the winter months. Bunnell, realizing the chairs were going to be a prize to sell to Westport’s summer residents decided to make these chairs his own. He filed for a patent and got it in 1904. Then he went into business making the Adirondack chairs and selling them to those who were looking for a comfortable way to recline while taking a vacation in the Adirondack area. It was a good business for him, making the Adirondack chairs was the bulk of his carpentering business for 20 years. He treated each of the Adirondack chairs he made as a piece of art. They were made of hemlock and either green or medium brown in color and each chair was hand signed.

     Adirondack chairs continued to grow in popularity, hitting their peak of fashion for chairs in the 1930’s. After that, the popularity waned a bit, but not too much. To this day when you visit bed and breakfasts and cabin lodges you will find a number of Adirondack chairs to relax in. Other places Adirondack chairs are often found are campgrounds, and now more and more on porches, lawns and in the homes of people who have fallen in love with them on their retreat and couldn’t bear to be without them.