Stomps Chair Company in Dayton: A tale of a factory and family

The Stomps & Co. Chair factory was in business in downtown Dayton along the canal from 1860-1928. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
The Stomps & Co. Chair factory was in business in downtown Dayton along the canal from 1860-1928. CONTRIBUTED

Book was 150 years in the making.

Contact this contributing writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com.

Loraine Stomps Horvath, granddaughter of Gustave M. Stomps, founder of the Stomps Chair Company in Dayton, began a family genealogy quest 30 years before her death in 1989. Her daughter, Gail Horvath, picked up the mantle, adding the family business and notes taken from family and descendants of people who knew the chair company.

As she lay in a hospital bed before her death in February 2016, Gail asked her sister, Julie Horvath, to make sure the book got published. Julie, who lives in Michigan, enlisted the help of two cousins, Centerville resident Beth Grismer and Fairborn resident Jan Paul Ostendorf. Together, they completed the book, “Chair Stories and Other Tales,” which will be available this month.

“When I visited Julie, she told me it was almost complete,” said Grismer, “but it was far from complete. I went through what had been written, the photos and notes, and put it together, but took a different turn, highlighting the men who started the factory.”

Grismer edited and expanded the book, Julie did the proofreading and Ostendorf, an artist, did the layout and design.

“My great-grandfather, Gustave M. Stomps, and his brother Joseph had immigrated from Germany in the 1840s. Many Germans were coming here in large numbers then, settling in the area around where Stivers High School is now.

“In 1850, almost 75 percent of foreign-born Daytonians were German; after WWI, approximately 20 German clubs existed, primarily on the east end, and German newspapers were still published; Germantown was an entire city of Germans and once rivaled Dayton as the county’s principal city. There was a strong German influence here until the 1880s.

“The chair factory was located downtown, at the corner of First and Canal streets. It’s Patterson Boulevard and First Street now. They had buildings on both the east and west sides of the canal. A third man started with them, but dropped out, and one of Gustave’s son-in-laws, Richard Burkhardt, bought out his share.”

Through the years, various members of the Stomps and Burkhardt families worked at the company, best known for its chairs, which could be transported along the canal throughout Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana and New York, and later on to Canada and Mexico.

“Each year, they’d put out what they called a ‘Roman’ chair with arms, always very regal looking with carvings,” said Grismer. “They made one for Holy Rosary Church with a cross, but others had what look like monsters’ faces or just interesting one-of-a-kind carvings.”

When Gustave Stomps died in 1890, his brother had already opened his own furniture factory, and the sons of Burkhardt took over the chair factory until it closed in 1928. By 1900, the forests surrounding downtown that supplied the sawmills had dwindled, and they had to travel to Kentucky for wood. In addition, the end of the canal days and 1913 flood had negative impacts on the business, adding to its downfall.

The business’ heyday spanned 1890-1900, when it employed 235 and had $250,000-$300,000 in annual sales. Special chairs were designed for the World Fair in 1893 and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

In addition to the main text, the 64-page hardbound book contains more than 100 photos and illustrations of the factory, chairs it produced and family members, a Dayton timeline and various Dayton sites. Along the sides of pages are interesting quotes from a variety of people, and even an old family recipe.

Now that the book’s completed, Grismer says, “I’m elated because we added so much about the families. It’s a gathering of memories and photos of these two prominent Dayton families.”

When it’s available mid-month “Chair Stories and Other Tales” will cost $41.80, which includes tax and shipping. “We’re having 250 printed, and ones we don’t sell, as well as all proceeds, will be donated to Dayton History,” said Grismer.

How to order

What: A new book called "Chair Stories and Other Tales"

To pre-order: Contact Beth Grismer by calling 937-438-9878 or by emailing eegrismer@gmail.com.