Filed under: Activities & Attractions, Roads & Routes
Small Town Americana: Made in the U.S.A.
Rand McNally, a Good Sam travel-planning information partner, loves to celebrate small towns. During Rand’s summer Best of the Road contest, folks discuss and vote for their favorite communities across the country. In a series of articles created just for Good Sam, Rand highlights the Americana that makes small towns fun, friendly, flavorful, beautiful—and patriotic.
Supporting small regional farmers and ranchers, patronizing mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, and “buying American” are not only trendy acts, they’re also patriotic ones. And those entrepreneurs we patronize? Well, they’re patriots, too. They often employ local workers; use local, or at least, U.S. materials, as much as possible; and keep both American craftsmanship and the dream alive. Many of them also happen to be in small towns; here are just a few. To see what people are saying about other patriotic communities and to vote for your favorite, be sure to visit Best of the Road.
Perry and Lewiston, ME: Quoddy Moccasins
Motivated to create comfortable shoes to help him cope with his polio affliction and inspired by the footwear of Maine’s Passamaquoddy Indians, Harry Smith Shorey began making hand-sewn moccasins in 1909. And one of his first customers was none other than Leon Leonwood (L.L.) Bean.
The handcraftsmanship continues with today’s Quoddy line of moccasins, deck shoes, and boots—made to order using leather from a Chicago-based tannery. Headquarters is still in Perry, not far from New Brunswick, Canada, but the workshop is farther Downeast in Lewiston, a town with a tradition of shoemaking.
Manilus, NY: Stickley Furniture
Building the “honest” Mission-style furniture first created by the Stickley brothers in Fayetteville, NY, back in 1900, requires sturdy quarter-sewn white oak. It also requires dove-tailing, tongue-and-grooving, ship-planking and other techniques that impart strength and craftsmanship. You can learn all about the back story, design, and construction of these fine pieces on a tour of the factory or the museum—both in Manilus, about 11 miles southeast of Syracuse.
Though no longer owned by the Stickleys, the company is still family owned and operated. The Audi family—which had a long history of distributing the furniture—purchased it, after reassuring Leopold’s widow, Louise, that they “. . . love Stickley enough to keep its quality.”
Newell, WV: Fiestaware
Homer Laughlin China first released its Fiesta dishware back in 1936. In just one year, the company sold over a million pieces, firmly establishing the colorful, practical, and, today, collectible line. HLC is still owned by members of the Wells families. Their ancestor, William Edwin Wells (and his partner, Louis I. Aaron) purchased it from Homer Laughlin back in 1887, and, in the early 1900s, moved its operations from Ohio to West Virginia—literally creating the town of Newell.
On a tour of the factory here, you’ll learn about the importance of Ohio River clay to the company’s products from the very start, back in the 1870s. You’ll also see how dishware is made and find out how (and why) the Fiesta line’s color palette has changed through the years.
Logan, OH: Columbus Washboard Company
There’s nothing better at removing stains from cuffs and collars; nothing handier on a long camping trip; nothing quite so rustically decorative; and nothing that adds quite as much rhythmic zing to bluegrass, zydeco, and Cajun music. That’s what the new owners correctly believed when, in the 1990s, they bought the circa 1895 Columbus Washboard Company and moved it to Logan, 50 miles southeast of the capital in Ohio’s beautiful Hocking Hills region.
And there is, it seems, much to be said for both traditional laundry methods and traditional manufacturing. The “new” Logan plant is in a building that once housed a Godman Shoe factory, and much of the equipment dates from the early 20th century. During a factory tour, you can see washboards assembled by hand, learn how various surfaces serve different purposes, take a photo of the world’s largest washboard, and shop not only for a board but also some really good soap!
Other Small Town America Brands
Janesville, WI: Wisconsin Wagon Company. What child doesn’t need a wooden rocking horse or toy wagon—hand-made by a company that got its start as a carriage manufacturer, no less?
Avery Island, LA: Tabasco Sauce. Putting Louisiana zip into food everywhere since the 1860s.
Longview and Garland, TX: Resistol. Hand-made hats worn by real cowboys as well as in-the-know wannabes.
Spring Valley, CA: Deering Banjo. Cause you’ll need a really good one to go with your really good washboard when you start that bluegrass group.