The Making Of The Adirondack Chair

The hike from the Garden trailhead to Johns Brook Lodge (JBL) isn’t particularly long or challenging, as far as Adirondack hikes go. It’s a trail I’ve hiked numerous times, and every successive time, it seemingly gets longer and harder and more demoralizing. One of its most heartbreaking aspects? When I round the trail’s final bend and see the Adirondack chairs lining JBL’s wraparound porch, I want nothing more than to flop down and relax in one of them. But they’re for lodge guests only. And since I’d need a reservation to stay in the backcountry hotel, instead, I have to trudge by, gloomily, to set up my tent on some semi-flat piece of ground, chairless.

As far as the noncushioned type go, Adirondack chairs are undoubtedly among the comfiest. (Maybe that’s why it physically pains me and my aching legs to walk by them at JBL.) Whom do we have to thank for these slant-backed pseudo-recliners? That would be patent-holder Harry C. Bunnell, or, rather, his friend, Thomas Lee, from whom he stole the design. As the story goes, in 1903, Lee built the first Adirondack chairs for his family, offering the design to Bunnell to sell at his carpentry shop in Westport, NY. Bunnell promptly pilfered the design and, without Lee’s permission, applied for a patent for what he called Westport Chairs. Interestingly, Lee never tried to reclaim the rights to the design.

Now, Bunnell’s (or Lee’s?) Westport (or Adirondack?) chairs are sold around the world. They come in a variety of materials such as wood, plastic and even recycled skis; in every imaginable color; in traditional and rocking chair varieties; and even with custom footstools. To me, the aesthetics don’t matter so much; I’d be perfectly happy with one of those plain, unstained wooden chairs on JBL’s porch. Maybe someday.

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