By Jody Brumage, Historian and Curator of South Mountain Heritage Society
Until mass-produced furniture became widely available and popular in the late-nineteenth century, many families in the Middletown Valley furnished their homes with chairs, tables, beds, cupboards, and other pieces that they either constructed themselves or commissioned through their local cabinetmaker. The trade of cabinetmaking came to the colonies with European settlers in the seventeenth century. Possessing the skills of joining, carving, and turning among others, cabinetmakers built furniture to the specifications of their customers. Throughout the nineteenth century, cabinetmakers were as common to small towns as blacksmiths, millers, and storekeepers, but only the names of a few have stood the test of time and maintain recognition today among those who collect and preserve furniture made in the Middletown Valley. Many of these cabinetmakers lived and worked in the upper valley around the villages of Myersville and Wolfsville.
James Wesley Morgan established a furniture factory northwest of Wolfsville in Brandenburg Hollow in 1883 where he built chairs, tables, and cabinets. The site of his establishment is now the Wolfsville Ruritan Club. Calvin Tressler Kinna Gladhill and his wife, Lola Wiles Gladhill of Harmony, established the valley’s premier furniture store in 1915 in Middletown, employing local cabinetmakers in addition to carrying fine furniture imported from catalog companies. Beginning in the 1850s, the Stottlemyers of Wolfsville, perhaps the most well-known of valley cabinetmakers, produced furniture which has come to define the Middletown Valley style. The work of Frederick Stottlemyer and his son, Christopher Columbus Stottlemyer remains highly sought-after nearly a century after their business ceased operation in 1921.
One of the last families engaged in this traditional cabinetmaking trade in the upper valley were the Gavers of Ellerton. Gaver-made furniture is rare given the short period of time in which it was produced. From the early-1930s until 1942, Kellsie Gaver produced cupboards, chairs, bedsteads, and other furniture in his workshop located on his parent’s farm on Bittle Road in Ellerton along Catoctin Creek.