WESTON PLACES - School Furniture Factory
Weston Scouts Clear Crescent Street Mill Site
Weston is fortunate to have yet another Eagle Scout project centered around a long-abandoned historic site. In 2021, scouts cleared the foundation of the Merriam Barn and, with assistance from Weston Historical Commission (WHC), erected a handsome information sign. In 2023, Xaverian Brothers High School senior Ciaran Gavin focused his Eagle Scout project on the site of a school furniture factory once located close to his Crescent Street home. The foundation was completely overgrown, giving few clues to the size of the mill, which operated here from 1854 to 1917. Ciaran secured the approval of the WHC, assembled a crew of scouts to clear the site, and worked with commission members on a sign, designed by Ford Curran and dedicated to the memory of Anna Melone Pollock. The sign was erected in October 2023. A second sign will show how water flowed from a mill pond behind 29 Crescent Street through mill races to the water wheel. Assisting with the project was Cindy Bates, author of a forthcoming history of the area and nearby Melone Homestead. The text for the information sign is as follows:
In 1854, William G. Shattuck established a mill here to produce school furniture, powered by water from Three Mile Brook. Four to eight men produced wooden chairs and desk parts sent to Boston for finishing, assembly, and sale. Upon Shattuck’s death in 1875, ownership of the business passed to the Kenney family. In 1917, they moved the operation to a larger site in Central Massachusetts. The building was demolished in 1925 and the materials used to build the house at 29 Crescent Street.
The School Furniture Factory
Located on Crescent Street from 1854 to 1917
From the early settlement of Weston through the 1930s, water from Three Mile Brook powered a succession of small mills on Crescent Street. In 1854, William G. Shattuck established a “chair factory” (also referred to as a “school furniture factory”) on the third of three mill sites. The mill produced wooden chair and desks parts sent to Boston for finishing, assembly, and sale. The finished products were sold to schools throughout the Boston area and as far away as Washington, D.C.
By 1860, Shattuck employed seven men at his Weston factory and produced 5,000 seats and 2,500 desks, as well as other chairs and settees. Production revenues increased from $5,000 in 1854–55 to $8,000 in 1859–60. Production revenues were not reported in 1865, but by 1875 had increased to $12,000. The seven employees worked 10-hour days, six days a week. According to Massachusetts industry statistics of 1875, the average daily wage, $2.75, was the highest reported in the state among furniture manufacturers.
The Weston Historical Society owns two chairs made during the Shattuck years, as well as a double desk that is missing its iron legs.
After Shattuck’s death in 1875, the finishing and distribution side of the business was purchased by Amasa Whitcomb, a long-time employee. Another employee, Oliver N Kenney, purchased the manufacturing part of the business along with a partner, James Miller.
About 1891, A.G. Whitcomb was bought by George Springer Perry (1855–1904), who changed the name to George S. Perry & Company and added school supplies and slate blackboards to the list of products distributed by the Boston-based firm.
In 1883, he and his new bride built a house at the corner of Crescent Street and Boston Post Road. On the manufacturing side, Oliver Kenney was succeeded by his sons George and Ralph in 1895, although George retired soon after. In December 1901, Ralph and another brother, Charles, along with Henry Wolkins, bought out George Perry and formed a new partnership under the name of Kenney Bros & Wolkins. A few months later, the Waltham Daily Free Press Tribune reported that “Kenney Bros are working on an order of 1500 intermediate desks for Washington, D.C.”
Power for the chair factory was originally supplied by a turbine waterwheel, replaced in the late 1890s by a 28-foot-diameter undershot waterwheel which was more efficient but a headache in winter months. Ice would form on one side and cause it to run unevenly. A small steam engine was used during the summer when water was low.
No finishing was ever done in Weston. The desk boxes and seat tops were hauled on a two-horse cart to Boston, where they were finished and packed for shipment all over New England and New York state. A Kenney descendant described the trip to the Fulton Street warehouse in Boston:
Once a week and two or three times a week during the summer months, the “hill team” with its load of furniture on the way to Boston was a familiar sight on the Post Road. The load was made up in the afternoon and promptly when the whistle blew at 7 o’clock the next morning the team started up the hill, turned left of Crescent St. to the Post Rd. . . . Gus Upham drove the team for many years and he was so regular that it is said old timers used to set their watches when he passed their doors.
On May 21, 1905, a disastrous fire, thought to have been of incendiary origin, razed the original mill. A description in the Waltham Daily Free Press Tribune the following day described the “old wooden structure,” two stories high, 30 feet by 50 feet, valued at $2000 with stock valued at $4000. A one-story frame structure was quickly rebuilt on the same site, with new machinery and a new mill wheel.
The rebuilt chair factory remained in Weston until 1917, when Kenney Bros & Wolkins moved the operation to a larger site in the Central Massachusetts town of Baldwinville. The next year, the executors of George Perry’s estate sold 66 acres on Crescent Street to Horace Sears, who sold the property to his nephew, Francis B. Sears Jr.
The wooden mill building was dismantled in 1925. F. B. Sears Jr. used the lumber to build a house at 29 Crescent Street for his chauffeur, Isaac Comeau, and his wife Theresa.
The 28-foot diameter waterwheel that powered the mill from 1905 to 1916 remained until about 1940, having become something of a tourist attraction.
Farm Town to Suburb: The History and Architecture of Weston, Massachusetts, 1830–2020 (Second Edition) by Pamela W. Fox, p. 290–292. See also endnotes 13–21, p. 306–307.
“The History of the Melone Homestead and Sears Conservation Land, Part II” [PDF] by Cynthia B Bates, The Weston Historical Society Bulletin, Fall 2008, pages 15–32, especially pages 21–25.