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Sample Articles - From Issue #26, October 1999

Guilford-Style Chair Wheels
by Florence Feldman-Wood

The title of my paper at the Dublin Seminar 1999 was "The Mystery of the Connecticut Chair Wheel." Although many examples exist of these spinning wheels, which have two treadles and two wheels in a chair-like frame, little is known about them. Two examples shown on pages 49–51 in Pennington and Taylor’s book came from the Guilford, CT, area. So I began my search by contacting the Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford. Built in 1639, the Henry Whitfield House is the oldest house in Connecticut and the oldest stone house in New England.

Imagine my delight when I received slides of two chair-frame wheels from the museum curator, Mike McBride, and his assistant, Michelle Parrish. One of the spinning wheels (HWSM #904041), which has two solid wooden wheels, came with a display card that says, "This type of spinning wheel, known as the ‘Connecticut chair wheel,’ was developed by Joshua Goldsmith (1769–1838). Goldsmith also built this particular example." At last! Confirmation that these wheels were from this area, and a name of a wheel maker! [See below to learn more about Joshua Goldsmith.]

Goldsmith Wheel
Photo: Joshua Goldsmith Wheel,
Henry Whitfield Museum

Henry Whitfield’s house became a museum in 1899. The accession ledger says that this "flax wheel - [Improved Goldsmith pattern - Guilford]" was given as a gift by Joseph Wyatt of Guilford in 1904. The accession card notes that it was "Invented by Joshua Goldsmith and preferred by many of his towns women to the older pattern." The ‘older pattern’ was probably the single treadle bobbin/flyer spinning wheel.

The Guilford Keeping Society also has an example of a chair-frame wheel. Sandra Rux, president of the society, found it in storage at the Thomas Griswold house. Although missing its bobbin/flyer unit, this wheel with spoked wheels is a match to the second wheel in the Henry Whitfield Museum collection (HWSM #973333).

Guilford wheel
Photo: Wheel in Guilford Keeping Society collection

This wheel is also identical to a chair-frame wheel in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. With assistance from curator Paula Richter, I had studied that wheel (PEM #120,580) earlier. It is marked E. L. on the top of the right front upright, as is the one belonging to the Guilford Keeping Society. According to the museum records, it was purchased in New Haven, CT. Another example marked E. L. is pictured in Pennington and Taylor’s book on p. 51. 

Despite the difference of solid and spoked wheels, the Goldsmith wheel and those marked E. L. all have characteristics that we can call a Guilford style. All are compact, with a footprint about 14" square [the Goldsmith wheel is 16"]. The upright posts are squared, but the stretchers are rounded. The height of the rear uprights is 24" and the front ones is 19". The two treadles are each attached to the Z-shaped drive-wheel axle by a flat strip of leather tied to a leather cord.

The drive-wheel axle rests between two horizontal stretchers. The diameter of the lower wheel, the drive wheel, is 14". The diameter of the upper or accelerating wheel is 12". Besides three rows of scoring, the spoked wheels have a very delicate form of decoration. A small notch is cut from each end of the short pieces in the wheel, forming a V-shaped decoration on the wheel rim. On the back of the upper wheel on the Goldsmith wheel there are two round augur marks cut out of the solid wood. This can be seen on p. 50 of Pennington and Taylor’s book. Metal inserts were placed in these circles to add weight and angular momentum. David Pennington has seen one with the weights still in place [e-mail message from Michael Taylor].

A 5" wooden disk is attached to the back of the accelerating wheel. From the side it is easy to see how the drive wheel lines up with the disk on the accelerating wheel [see diagram below]. A 1"-wide leather belt goes around the drive wheel and this disk. The tension on the belt can be adjusted by small changes in the height of the upper wheel axle in both the back and the front. In the front the axle fits through a wooden cone set into a vertical post. The cone can move vertically and be secured by a peg. At the back the axle fits into a small piece of wood that rests in the back upper stretcher. The piece of wood can be raised or lowered small amounts, then secured with a peg.

Chair Wheel Diagram
Diagram of side view

Another distinguishing feature of these wheels is the tensioning device to adjust the doubled drive band between the grooved rim of the accelerating wheel and the whorls on the bobbin/flyer unit. [See close-up below]. A block of wood, approximately 2" square with a threaded hole in the middle, is set into the rear left upright above the mother-of-all. A piece of wood approximately 4" high by 2" wide is set at an angle into the back of the mother-of-all. It also has a threaded hole. A long wooden threaded rod fits through the block on the upright and into the block on the mother-of-all. By tightening that screw the angle of the mother-of-all can be changed, moving it closer or further from the upper wheel, and the tension on the drive band can be adjusted. The handles on these rods are rounded on the Goldsmith wheels and flat on the wheels marked E. L.

Chair Wheel Detail
Close-up of tensioning device

Who E. L. was remains a mystery. Sandra Rux, who has done extensive genealogical research on the early families of Guilford, checked probate inventories for possible candidates like Edmund and Eli Leete who lived at the correct time. She did not find anything definitive. They all owned slightly more than the average number of carpenter’s tools, but none owned a turning lathe [e-mail message from Sandra Rux].

Although we have identified a Guilford-style chair-frame wheel, the quest goes on. On page 159 of Cummer’s book is another variation. These have rounded posts and stretchers, as well as spoked wheels. The mother-of-all is adjusted by a wooden nut on the front upright post. This style of chair-frame wheel is the one seen more often and has created the myth that this type of wheel was made in a chair factory. To date I have not found any support for this theory. Perhaps we will make another lucky discovery of an example with history. Then we will be closer to the solution of "The Mystery of the Connecticut Chair Wheel."

Author’s note: Thanks to Michael McBride, Michelle Parrish, and Sandra Rux in Guilford for all their generous help, and to Paula Richter for her assistance at the Peabody Essex Museum. Thanks also to Michael Taylor and David Pennington who graciously shared their expertise.

For more information write: The Henry Whitfield State Museum, P.O. Box 210, Guilford, CT 06437, or call 203-453-2457.

Addendum: Sandra Rux recently discovered two more solid-wheel Guilford-style chair-frame wheels in the storage area at the Hyland House in Guilford. This brings the total to five such wheels in the town. It strengthens the case for a Guilford origin for this design.

 

Joshua Goldsmith of Guilford, CT
by Florence Feldman-Wood

Joshua Goldsmith was a spinning-wheel maker in Guilford, CT. Born on December 26, 1769, Joshua was the fifth of nine children. His parents, John Goldsmith [1732–1816] and Deborah Terry [1732–1795] lived in Southold on Long Island. But in 1777, when Long Island was occupied by the British, they moved to Durham, CT, and then to Guilford in 1780. Joshua married Nancy McKean [1772–1838] on May 30, 1791. He died September 28, 1838. Joshua and Nancy had one child, Alvah Bradley Goldsmith, (born December 2, 1792, died June 12, 1863) [Talcott, pp. 503–504].

Alvah had been unsuccessful in business in New Haven and returned to Guilford, where he worked as a wheelwright as well as a preacher. In 1823 Alvah Goldsmith became the minister, and Joshua Goldsmith was appointed deacon, of the Baptist church. According to a 1897 local history, the Goldsmiths so dominated the church that the small congregation was known as the Goldsmith Baptists. The group disbanded after Alvah’s death [Steiner, p. 386–387].

According to the records of the Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford, CT, this style of chair-frame wheel was invented by Joshua Goldsmith, and this particular spinning wheel was made by him. The museum library has a ledger that belonged to the merchant Frederick Griffing. It lists several entries for Joshua Goldsmith that appear to be related to wheel making.

Debits:
March 10, 1814
April 18, 1815
December 13, 1815
January 1816
March 29, 1816

Credit:
March 1815


2-foot rule
Draw shave
Hand saw file
Flat file
Hand saw file


Mending cart wheel

Joshua Goldsmith left a will in which he states, "I give and bequeath to my beloved grandson, Oliver Cromwell Goldsmith, all my carpenter’s and farming tools and utensils." The will also shows that Joshua owned a farm with a house and 22 acres of land. There is no inventory. The house is still standing on Moose Hill Road in Guilford.

Resources:

Talcott, Alvin. Families of Early Guilford, CT, Baltimore, 1984, pp. 503–504.

Steiner, Bernard Christian. History of Guilford and Madison, Connecticut, 1897 edition re-issued  by the Guilford Free Library in 1975, pp. 386–387.

Author’s note: Thanks to Sandra Rux for locating a copy of the will. Thanks also to Nona Bloomer, librarian in charge of the local-history collection at the Guilford Free Library.

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