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McConnellsville

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: McConnellsville
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It's a small unincorporated village just north of Oneida Lake, with a population of just a few hundred people. But McConnellsville has a legacy they've been building for more than 100 years. In this week's edition of Your Hometown, Andrew Sorensen tells us the story of a family that started working in a saw mill, but grew a name big enough for a seat in the White House.

MCCONNELLSVILLE, N.Y.-- When you come into McConnellsville... there's not a whole lot more to greet you than a post office on McConnellsville Road. But grab a chair, because there's a whole lot more here than meets the eye.

"As the story goes, they were very active in the sawmill business for a number of years," Harden Furniture CEO Greg Harden said.

The village's namesake, Joseph McConnell, was one of the earliest settlers in 1814.

He was a postmaster, but the area's main industry quickly became wood.

"They would harvest timber, generally in the winter. We've got some old photography from the old camps up in the Tug Hill area, and then they would generally float the logs down Fish Creek," said Harden.

Fish Creek runs right through the heart of McConnellsville, and what it brought to the people who moved here in the early 1800s was opportunity.

They would mill the timber coming down the creek and sell it for good prices.
Almost everything, from roads to buildings, needed wood for the westward expansion of New York.

"Well there came a time where they wanted other winter work, other than timber camps. And that's when they started the furniture business," Harden said.

Charles and Frank Harden started with a chair.

"1844 is the only documented date we have, they started building kitchen chairs and tables," said Harden.

Charles' great-great grandson Greg has a lot of those now.

Take it from someone who's been here a while, like Dave Britton.

"In March, it'll be 30 years," he said.

The Hardens made woodworking pretty popular around here.

"McConnellsville is Harden. Harden is McConnellsville," Britton explained.

Dave Britton, whose son also works here now, shows how a "father and son" shop became a "fathers-and-sons" shop.

"My brother-in-law worked here, and his father, and his father's mother worked here, and so it was my brother-in-law that actually got me into here," said Britton.

The real explosion came in the 1930s with the third generation: Charles, Clarence and Harry Harden.

"The three of them really ran the business and built the business from what had been a small little local cabinet shop to a company that was distributing products regionally and then nationally," Harden said.

It's been a long road since.

They even grew big enough to make a conference table for the White House, but not without some speed bumps.

"The recession cut our business about in half," Harden said.

They're hopeful for a rebound.

"It hasn't been easy for this region, hopefully we can make a difference, hopefully we can make a bigger difference in years to come," said Harden.

But 28 year employee Mark Strail says they're still proud of what they do.

"When you're making furniture for the White House from a little place like this, to me that's impressive," he said.

So like a piece of fine furniture, the Hardens started with a rough idea.

"We're the oldest furniture manufacturer in North America," said Harden.

They worked long and hard at it.

"Our father worked here, our mother worked here, and our grandfather retired from here," explained Strail.

They whittled and refined it until it took shape.

"Over the years (we've) funded baseball fields and soccer fields and some things around the community," Harden said.

And they gave it those extra bits that make it comfortable.

"Even the co-workers you aren't related to, we're all part of a family," said Strail.

A family that, even for the employees who don't live here, takes up a big part of the heart of this village.

Harden Furniture says they pride themselves most on taking the product from lumber to furniture without any waste.

All of their wood scraps go into their heating and electricity.

You can learn more about Harden Furniture's story at hardenfurniture.com.

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