Makeshift parlor furniture on the Wisconsin frontier

Without access to local cabinetmakers and furniture dealers, and without funds to have their furniture shipped to the Wisconsin frontier, the only option for many pioneer families was to make their furniture themselves. By creatively using available materials, pioneer settlers could create makeshift versions of the familiar furnishings they had left behind. In Land of the Fox, Saga of Outagamie County (1949) (available online from the State of Wisconsin Collection), Elsie Bottenseck describes her mother’s ingenuity in setting up house in 1848 at what is now the city of Appleton:

“She brought with her bolts of white and unbleached cotton cloth, chintz and calico, a few dishes, cooking paraphernalia but no furniture. . . She used the barrel in which her household goods had been packed for the furniture. This was accomplished by taking a barrel, sawing it half in two at the proper height from the floor, removing all the sawed staves, covering all with burlap, putting on rockers, then covering with chintz, and there was a rocking chair. Her center table was made by using barrel heads, nailing them on a center piece, then using one head for the table top and the other for the base, covering all up with chintz, tying it in the middle–and there was an ‘hour glass’ table.”

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.


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