This building was built in 1899 and is located on the east side of Arch Street at the northeast corner of Upper Market Street. The company later expanded and added a three-story brick building to the left that extends to Locust Street. They made cedar chests and bamboo furniture.
The West Branch Novelty Company was established in 1893 by Marshall Reid, F. S. Chapin, H. R. Frick and George C. Chapin. For the first few years their efforts were confined entirely to the manufacture of bamboo furniture, and sales were extended over a limited territory near home. The artistic merit of their product, however, soon attracted the attention of dealers far and near, and the increased demand compelled them to seek larger quarters, which resulted in the building of a new factory on the corner of Upper Market and Arch streets, in 1899. Since then, numerous articles of decorative furniture have been added until their output was classed with the standard furniture lines of the country. Originality of design, close attention to business and fair dealing have contributed to the steady growth of this, one of Milton's flourishing industries, and their merited success was the pride of our citizens.
In the beginning the company made bamboo furniture and its first quarters were in a loft of the West Branch Knitting Company building on Center Street. Later it was moved to what was previously the William K. Wertman Carriage works on Upper Front (Arch) Street. The building is gone now, but was at the SE corner of the first alley north of Broadway, on the east side. The company prospered and in 1901, when larger quarters were needed, half of the final site on Arch Street was purchased. Within a few years the company was the largest single importer of bamboo in the entire United States. A large brick building was constructed in 1912 at the north end of the Arch Street property on land purchased from the estate of Henry A. Fonda, formerly occupied by the flour mill of Elias Bickel. In 1935 another large addition was built to house the machine department.
Three years after the company was incorporated in 1910, the cedar chests made by the company had become the most important single line of merchandise produced. Production of bamboo furniture was gradually reduced and finally, after the war, discontinued entirely so that all plant facilities could be devoted to the making of chests. During the First World War the plant interrupted its regular production schedules to make boxes for the shrapnel shells and toxic gas shells which were being manufactured then by the American Car and Foundry Company here and by the Milton Manufacturing Company.
Materials used in the chests were obtained from all parts of the world. The cedar came mainly from southern states, but some of the hard veneer woods used on the exterior of the chests came from Africa, Australia and some countries of Asia. The finished chests were marketed in all parts of the world, but the principal market was in the United States, east of the Mississippi. They were usually sold through department stores, and West Branch chests could be purchased in all leading department stores of the nation.
Photo courtesy of Gary Nisperly