First Gardner MA "Big Chair" from 1905
First “Big Chair” was created by George C. Goodale of the Philander Derby Company in 1905 and appeared as a float in that year’s Labor Day parade.
Heywood Wakefield “Big Chair” 1935 Postcard
Heywood Wakefield “Big Chair” undated photo
Gardner “Big Chair” prior to 2011 renovation
Gardner "Big Chair" July 2021
Gardner “Big Chair” in July 2021. Some wear is evident.
Another image of the original Gardner “Big Chair” made by the P. Derby & Co.

The History of Gardner MA “Big Chair”, Gardner furniture manufacturing, and Gardner MA furniture stores.

Time to Share Stories of the Big Chair

Intertwined in Gardner’s broader history is the history of rising and falling furniture manufacturing, the perilous record of the Big Chair, and the closing and emergence of Gardner MA furniture stores. Here is the story of the “Big Chair” & Gardner furniture.

The Back Story – Furniture Manufacturing

Jump to Furniture Stores

To make a Big chair, you first have to be able to make chairs, period. The history of the big Gardner Chair dates back over a hundred years, before Gardner MA became a city.  However, the local manufacture of chairs dates back almost 200 years to the time in 1826 when five Heywood brothers decided to make furniture in a barn on the family farm.   Nichols and Stone goes back a bit further, but they first got started in another town, Westminster MA in 1762.   While most manufacturers are now gone, companies like Standard Chair of Gardner still operate and are still prominent and have received national notoriety.  The Standard Chair website shows former President Obama receiving a chair from the company.   While the heyday of chair manufacturing in Gardner is now history, we can’t forget that at one time Gardner was home to a dozen furniture companies making more than a million chairs a  year and employing almost one thousand workers. 

Setting the Guiness Record

The 20 foot iconic chair on Elm Street is testament to the “Chair City of the World.”  In 1977, the chair was designated as the largest in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records and the record was listed in the 1978 edition of the book.  Since then, the record has been overtaken by other large chairs in the world such as a 98 foot high chair in Austria. (see Austria chair) Largest chair Guinness

History of the Chair

1905-1935 – 30 years

First Big Chair - George C. Goodale

It is said the very first “Big Chair” was created by George C. Goodale of the Philander Derby Company in 1905 and was intended to be the company’s float in that year’s Labor Day parade.  Afterwards, the chair ended up at the north end of Union Station in Union Square. Satellite view of Union Square, Gardner MA today. Below is another view of this chair on a postcard issued by Gardner Pharmacy.

Another view of Derby chair

1935-1959 – 24+ years

Heywood Wakefield Big Chair

In 1935, the Big Chair was replaced by a 16 foot Colonial Hitchcock Chair made by the Heywood Wakefield Company.  However, the Union Square depot was torn down in 1959, and the chair was moved to the Lake Street Fire Station where it was refurbished and moved to the junction of West Broadway and Pleasant Street.  (satellite view of where that was) back to top

The original Heywood Wakefield factory has been converted into apartments, shown at left and right in image below. The heart of downtown Gardner is in distance.

Gardner MA downtown - Heywood Wakefield company at left

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1959-1972 – 13 years

After a couple of years at West Broadway and Pleasant Street, the chair was taken to a small shed at Crystal Lake Cemetery to be fixed and then placed at the site of the old town hall on Central Street by 1962.   It stayed there for 10 years until it was removed due to some rot in the right rear leg.  For some time, Gardner was without a Big Chair. 

1973-1976 – Gardner was “Big Chairless”

Gardner was without a Big Chair for some time. As you might imagine, much discussion was held about how, who, and with what a new chair would be made and where the chair would be placed.

1976 – U.S. Bicentennial Year Proves to be Good Luck Charm for “Big Chair”

Gardner "Big Chair" prior to 2011 renovation

A chair made of Honduras Mahogany by Leon LaPlante was placed at the current location in front of the Helan Mae Sauter School on Elm Street, Gardner on June 23, 1976 with a formal dedication on July 4, 1976, the time of our nation’s bicentennial celebration. (click for map to location)

1998 Repair

The chair was repaired in 1998 due to rot and restored by Northland Restoration. 

2011 Repair

As has happened in the chair’s history, weather takes its toll on even the best wood, so in September 2011, the chair was taken to Maki Corp’s shop for repairs and was back in place in two months by Thanksgiving that year.   We can only hope that  the Maki Building Center tradition of quality brings good luck to the chair and we don’t have to fix it again in 10 years. back to top

 

The Furniture Capital of New England

Gardner has been labeled the Furniture Capital of New England.  While a number of stores have closed, there are those which have existed for years and even a successful newcomer.   Most recently Gardner Outlet Furniture opened in Gardner and Lachance Furniture and Appliance, now known as Lachance Interiors, still serves customers from as far away as Boston and beyond on a daily basis.  One Google review sums up the stellar overall 4.4/5 google review record of Lachance with 30 reviews: “We are happy with the quality, selection, service, and prices.” Lachance has two locations in Gardner at 25 Kraft Street (click for map to location) and 501 West Broadway. (click for map to location) Lachance Furniture website.

Gardner Outlet Furniture

Gardner Furniture Outlet

New Furniture Store coming to Gardner

GardnerMagazine.com reports on 8/26/21 that Manzel Furniture & Rugs of Peabody plans to open store before, at, or after the new year at the site of the former Rome Furniture. See article

Newcomer Gardner Outlet Furniture at 380 Main St. Gardner (click for map to location) has 4 times the reviews with a 4.3/5 google review record, has opened a second store in Leominster, and has an outdoor furniture store in Bourne.  One 5 star reviewer stated, “Great prices, good furniture quality, and friendly staff.” Gardner Outlet Furniture website.   However Big Lots, a small department store, gets 4.2/5 review ratings with a furniture department.  Other nearby furniture stores include Winchendon Furniture at 13 Railroad St., Winchendon. (click for map to location) Winchendon Furniture website.  Let us know about other area furniture stores in operation and we will update this article to include them. We are pleased to hear that Manzel Furniture & Rugs will be open at the site of the former Rome Furniture Store on Main Street.

Manzel Furniture & Rugs
Newest Gardner MA Furniture store to open before, at, or after the new year!

Interactive Map of Gardner Massachusetts

Map and Directions to the Big Chair,130 Elm Street, Gardner

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