Last Thursday I was so fortunate to publicize my project to the folks at Siewers Lumber & Millwork, who were very willing and eager to share their company history, which began in 1884. I contacted Richie Siewers about help with the millwork design of the porches on 811, 813 and 817 South Cathedral Place upon the suggestion of the Old House Authority. I sent Richie some pictures of the porches, as well as the similar style catalog I had composed. I believe this catalog perhaps generated special interest in my assignment and inquiry because on the last slide, he laid eyes upon the house his great-grandfather, and founding father of Siewers Lumber, Richard A. Siewers, had built for his family ca. 1890 and lived in for years and years!
After speaking with Richie Siewers and touring their facility and library, I learned a lot about the history and development of lumber yards and millwork of that era. R.A. Siewers began his company like many of the early millwork generation – by offering a mix of services until finally specializing. A framed invoice from the turn of the 19th century described the company as “Wholesale & Retail dealer in Lumber, Laths & Shingles… General Contractor… Builder & Manufacturer of Sash, Blinds, Doors, Windows & Door Frames.” Years have whittled down a lot of services to lumber and millwork! Also, the Siewers library was quite helpful, most notably Brent Hull’s Historic Millwork: A Guide to Restoring and Re-creating Doors, Windows, and Moldings of the Late Nineteenth through Mid-Twentieth Centuries.
This volume explained a lot – or at least more than I’ve discovered so far – about the “Universal Molding Book(s)” catalogues and revised editions. It also revealed a lot about the beginnings of the millwork industry and how the product traveled from timbered regions to artisans in the late 19th Century, just as our row was being constructed, and explained how the designs I’m seeing came to be. It also illustrated the natural extension of various services – or departments – by businesses like R.A. Siewers, at the time:
Most of the big firms in millwork production started out as lumberyards. Millwork was a natural outgrowth of the primary business of selling lumber to builders and contractors. Many firms were vertically integrated. (Hull, xiii)
This visit turned out to be very informative, not only for clues to the character and birth of our row, but also revealing a lot of rich history about one of Richmond’s oldest living family businesses, 125 years and counting…