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Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site has a unique link to a North Carolina furniture maker. When James McCall walked into Mrs. Sandburg’s bedroom on a tour recently, he was shocked to find a piece of his family history sitting right in the middle of the floor. The McCall platform rocker is just one of 52,000 historic items that furnish the house at Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. McCall was on a tour of the home when he recognized the chair as one manufactured by McCall Chair Co., Inc., a chair manufacturing company started by his grandfather in Cornelius, N.C. The company was in business from about 1946 to 1981.
Lilian Sandburg likely purchased the chair for her bedroom in the 1960s. The chair has an oak frame and curved arms made of poplar. The “Spur Green” color Mrs. Sandburg chose was the most popular color of the time. She might have bought the chair new at a furniture store in Hendersonville for about $38.
“This entire chair was made in North Carolina,” said McCall. Every piece of the chair was crafted in the Cornelius factory, except for the springs and textiles which were manufactured by other local companies. McCall Chair Co. started with raw lumber, constructed the chair frames, added their signature corner glue blocks, painted and finished the frames, added the springs, and then added cushions and upholstery. McCall’s uncle, George McAlister, was the upholsterer who actually assembled the chair. “It took a little bit of dexterity to be an upholsterer,” said McCall.
McAlister, nicknamed “Heck,” visited Carl Sandburg Home NHS with McCall to view his handiwork on exhibit. McAlister, 86, said, “They liked the upholsterers because you were on piecework. You got $1.75 for a chair like that.” He built about 40 chairs a week. McAlister married into the McCall family. “I married Mary on the 14th, moved in with them on the 17th and went to work on the 19th.” McAlister’s wife, Mary, is one of ten children born to the chair company’s founder, Grover. According to McCall, “Heck was loyal. He was there until the last day we were open.”
McCall Chair Co. sought to make a good quality, low-priced chair. This, as McCall pointed out, would have been in keeping with the Sandburgs’ tastes for practicality. McCall regrets he did not document more of the company’s history before it closed. “The fact that this chair is here and going to be preserved is a great relief,” he said.
Carl Sandburg Home NHS is located three miles south of Hendersonville off U.S. 225 on Little River Road. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, except Christmas Day. For further information, please call 828-693-4178 or visit our website at www.nps.gov/carl.
(Images provided by the Sandburg Home.)
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