Making Stuff

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Contributing Writer
Paul Leone

Never mind the rather presumptuous cities—Cincinnati, Denver, Tuscaloosa, Anchorage, Gainesville, Ga., among them—that refer to themselves as “Queen “ cities, let us remember the proud and genteel designation of our beloved city, derived from, perhaps, the major mercantile product produced in the little hamlet’s earliest days. Sadly, the title is virtually dormant today, but Jamestonians of a certain age will certainly remember its wide application in the past. Jamestown was and remains the “Pearl” city.

The name is a reflection on the widespread production of ash, so called “pearlash”, obtained from the burning of hardwoods when Chautauqua’s forests were being cleared to make way for farming. The county boasted a number of “asheries” supplying large glass making facilities particularly in Pittsburg but also as far afield as Europe. Ashville, Chautauqua County, was named for its busy ashery.

Recently, I made a visit to Pittsburg’s Heinz Museum, a marvelous gigantic space filled with engaging exhibitions including a display of myriad glassware types and curious documentation describing early (and modern) glassmaking processes. Pearlash, I learned, comprises twenty percent of the three ingredients required for making glass. Happy I was to see Jamestown mentioned as instrumental to the supply.

From its very beginnings Jamestown has been making stuff. Good stuff. Renowned for the high quality wood furniture manufactured here in numerous competing factories, furniture making began as a cottage industry as early as 1813, just two years after the first home was built in Jamestown. That was the year that Phineas Palmiter opened for business. One might yet see a Palmiter product in the collections at the Fenton Historical Center.

In the late nineteenth century the national bicycle craze reached Jamestown. The Fenton Metallic Company, which at the time was producing metal office goods, took advantage of the craze to begin bicycle and bicycle parts manufacture. The Fenton Metallic Company eventually became the Art Metal Construction Company.

Remember voting machines? Jamestown’s Automatic Voting Machine Company controlled the lever voting machine industry for most of the twentieth century.

The Broadhead Mills? A collector of paper ephemera, I have been repeatedly delighted by the lovely textile creations featured on Broadhead Mills mini-advertisements sometimes in my possession. Next to furniture manufacture, I believe the textile industry had much to do in identifying Jamestown as a top quality manufacturing center in America.

I am delighted as well by the high tech influence driving manufacturing in Jamestown today. Educational and apprentice opportunities and an entrepreneurial spirit should keep Jamestown a manufacturing community.