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New Immigrants (1820-1840)

Henry Walrath's Chairs

Walrath Chairs

Henry Walrath's ladder-back chair

Henry Walrath (1808-1878) was a fanning mill maker in MacKeesport, Pennsylvania. By 1834, Henry and his wife, Nancy Reuff, and two children had immigrated to Canada. Family tradition records that he brought a spinning wheel with him from Pennsylvania. According to the family, Henry crossed the border at Prescott but was unable to pay the high duty on his machinery. He was forced to leave his tools in storage at the border while he and Nancy continued on to the Centreville area. When he returned later for his tools, he discovered that they had been stolen. DISCOVER MOREReadmore Arrow

By 1851, Henry, Nancy and their 8 children, ages 1 20, were living in a one storey log house on lot 22, concession 8, Richmond Township, south of the hamlet of Spencerville (Roblin) where Ezra Spencer had established saw and grist mills in the 1840's. Henry supported his family by farming and making chairs.

Richmond Township had been slow to settle, with new settlers far more interested in Camden and Ernestown. In all of Richmond Township, only 10,000 acres out of 50,000 had been cleared by 1846.

In 1852, the Richmond Road was being built. Ezra Spencer's refusal to sell land for a road allowance caused the surveyor to skirt the original village site, and build a bridge several hundred yards to the east of the mills. The road, however, conveniently went right by Henry's homestead. Travelling by horse and wagon, Henry sold his chairs as far south as Picton and north as Denbigh.

The ladder-back or slat-back chair was a popular chair style among American settlers in Upper Canada. Walrath's side chairs and rockers were simply detailed with ring turnings. The family remembers that " Grandpa Walrath's chairs were made so that you sat straight. You were paid to work, not sit."

Family tradition relates that Henry was "skinned out of a lot of money by a local preacher" with whom he had an arrangement to sell his chairs. By the 1871 census, Henry and Nancy still had eight unmarried children, and one married son with his wife and child living at home. Nancy died in November 1877. Henry died the following year.

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