of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.


By James Townsend, President

I brought this little pot to introduce our company. It is a copy of a Revolutionary War cooking pot used by many of the army groups and is made here in North Manchester. In our business we do a great deal of research about old time products which we then turn into projects.

We have been in business since about 1973. Our current catalog is number l5. It was quite some time until we got into the mail order end of the business. It became rather obvious to us after a few years that there was no way we could be everywhere but we could send out catalogs and be almost everywhere. We got a call today from a woman who saw one of our catalogs in England. She called and said she just had to have one. She was from Illinois. We have customers all over the world: Australia, New Zealand - all over Europe - Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, England -I can't think of all the other places. We have one customer from the country of Columbia. We have a lot of customers who went to Operation Desert Storm and Saudi Arabia. We shipped a lot of things over there -tomahawks, knives and all kinds of stuff. Now that they have come home we don't have any customers there any more.

Our business really started when I was a youngster. My grandfather kept telling me about going to school and taking a muzzle loading shotgun with him -hunting rabbits on the way to school and coming home. He had this old gun which I never played with. I did see it a few times as a child. I always thought that it would be kind of interesting - shooting guns like they did a couple of hundred years ago. So in the 60s I went to Schutz Brothers Gun Shop and bought a muzzle loading rifle. That kind of started it - about 1968.

Soon after I came back to College here and graduated in 1973. That was the year we started our business. It was a sad, sad start compared to what we do today. My daughter and I started the business but we decided to rename it James Townsend & Son. It is abbreviated as they would have done it during the revolution. Later, my daughter went to Seminary and became a minister but she continued to be a third owner.

Our business is almost entirely a family business. We have approximately twenty people on the payroll - I don't know exactly. Of those twenty people there is myself, my wife, my daughter, my two sons, my son's wife - never say there is nepotism - it's just a family affair. My son, who is actually the youngest member of our family is our general manager now since my daughter sort of retired from the business.

You can see that son who is the general manager on page two and three and on the back of the catalog. So the catalog has become almost a family album. We work cheap and those are our pictures in there. There is a page of ladies with hats on and my wife is there, my daughter and my daughter in law. Of all the people who work in our business all but three produce something. The catalog shows the things that each one makes.

We have about twelve ladies who sew for us. Some work in house; others at home. I am never quite sure how many there are at any given time but the work is pretty steady. In all the years we have been in business we have never fired anybody or laid anybody off. We came awfully close a couple of times. We have tried to treat everyone fairly. That's kind of important in a business. Since I have been on the other end of the stick I have felt that when I was in the management position we would treat our employees fairly. I think everyone likes working for us.

We have a somewhat different focus on history than many of you in the Historical Society. We are not interested in what was going through the person's mind at a certain time or even exactly what was happening at that particular time. Our business is, "What were they wearing? What were they using? What kind of things did they have? What did they eat with?" Many questions like that. The answers we find you can see in the catalog. We research all these little items to make sure they are as close to correct as we can possibly make them.

Tonight everything I have on from my shoes up is something we sell and much of it is what we make. I'm going to take one shoe off. If you look at it carefully you note it is not a right or left. It is symmetrical. It can be worn on either foot. It has a buckle on it to fasten it. This one I had made with rubber heels on it, but I walk on a lot of concrete so I didn't want leather heels. They are quite slippery.

We set about finding a company that would make shoes for us; that would make this style of shoe. Essentially, since they hadn't been made since at least the 1930's they had to come up with shoe lasts, cutting patterns and the whole thing and engineer it from scratch just for us. We work with a company in North Carolina to make these shoes. The shoe buckles are copies of the shoe buckles that were worn by the Revolutionary War soldiers and civilians. Everything we have similar to this is something that we have engineered and brought up from scratch. It is quite a job to do that.

We buy a lot of products because there is no sense in replowing the ground if someone else has done it. So although we have to purchase some things, a lot we have to manufacture. Everything I have on tonight from the skin out is something we sell and something we make, including my sun dial here. This is a little sun dial that dates back to the ll00s. It is quite an old piece. The ring is one like that - the crusader's cross. It is a little earlier than the Revolutionary War but still an early piece.

You can see in our catalog one of the things we are working on right now is this pair of eye glasses. We had a company which said they were going to have them for us. They went bankrupt at the last moment just as the catalog came out. We scouted around. We found a company in Korea that would make them, although we have yet to see the first pair. Up until then we have to make do. So you can see that we have quite a varied line of things. Essentially we are the Sears Roebuck of the reenactment business. You probably have all seen some of our stuff and not realized it.

There was a series called "George Washington" on TV a while back. It was maybe four years ago. A lot of our things were in that series on TV. There was a series called "Gettysburg" and one of the men in one of the scenes talking to the officer was wearing a shirt just like this one. These were worn clear up to the Civil War. There was a movie series on TV fairly recently called "Follow the River." In the very first scene of the movie the leading lady was dipping some cereal out of a cast iron pot bigger than the one I brought tonite. It was made at the North Manchester Foundry. The movie, "The Last of the Mohicans" had a lot of our merchandise in it. There was a series on TV and also a movie called "Phantom of the Sky" about Tecumseh. It had a lot of our things. Now we are selling things to Twentieth Century Fox for the movie called "The Crucible". We have been shipping things to them almost every day.

If you have ever visited any historical site up and down the east coast, from Fort Western in Maine to Concord and Lexington or Valley Forge, all these places buy from us. Independence National Park in Philadelphia -we make a copy of the lantern they have there and they have purchased a number of those to sell in their gift shop now. On page 50 in our catalog is a lantern which is a copy of one in Bishop House in Independence National Park. Yes we put our name on them. I sign each one on the bottom and date them. I've taken a lot of flack from antique dealers, because after a few years of use these things look old. I have seen them in antique stores. My brother saw one in an antique store in Missouri and the guy said, "Yep that's an old one." My brother said, "Yep, it has my dad's name right on the bottom." In fact, the last product I was busy making was some of these lanterns. We have a fellow down in Akron that is supposed to be making them but he could not make them fast enough. So we had to make some.

Probably one of our biggest customers in recent days has been Mount Vernon. We have literally clothed everybody at Mount Vernon except some of the ladies in real fancy dresses. I don't know how many people they have working there, but it has to be at least 100. Fife and drum corps all over the eastern part of the country are good customers. We sell a lot of things to places out west, too. A fort in Colorado, Lower Fort Gary in Manitoba, Canada

You just never know what you will run into. We buy things wherever we can find them. One of the things we have discovered is that third world countries are still working on the same technologies we were 200 years ago. So we import things from India. All these spittoons and a lot of knives were made in India. We can't get those made as reasonably here and get the quality. I don't mind supporting other people. It is not the major part of our business, but I like to have things like that. In fact, this little sun dial came from France. This one came from Chicago.

Anyway, we supply thousands of historical reenactors who mostly do Revolutionary War reenacting. That is essentially what made our business. We got involved in an organization called "NorthWest Territory Alliance". They call it an alliance, because it was an alliance between the British and the Colonial Troops and the French troops. It is all here in the midwest, mainly around Chicago as the center. There are a lot of members toward Detroit and also a lot down around Indianapolis. Essentially it is all the old Northwest Territory states with a few other stragglers coming in from surrounding states. This is a rather large reenacting group that just does Revolutionary War time period. So we got involved with that, and it gave us a direction for our business. We researched and researched some more because we had to come up to their standards and see what they wanted. When we did that we found we were in demand all over the country. That made our business.

One of the things that has changed over the past few years is the style of dress at home sites and historical places. It used to be when you visited a federal site the people would be wearing their khakis or Smokey Bear hats and such things. Today they are wearing clothing like mine. It means so much more to the people who visit. Independence National Park is a good example. If you visit there a lot of the people are dressed in period clothing. At Mount Vernon I'm not sure just when they started but suddenly with a bang last year they bought a lot of clothing from us. Places like Valley Forge have been with us for a long time.

We enjoy visiting all these places, too. We have visited many of the sites that buy from us. We just go in and visit and find out what they need. Sometimes they may wonder why we are there. We like to have fun when we go on vacation. So we have lots of choices. We have lots of customers in Canada. We are rather thrilled that our business has been successful and has been good for all of us.

Questions and Answers

Is your catalog available? Yes, you may take one or write for one.

Is your store open regularly? Yes, every day 10 - 5 except Sunday and major holidays.

Where is the store? I could draw you a map but it won't be necessary. We are right in the middle of Pierceton, In diagonal from the city park and across the street from the Post or next door to the Pastime Tavern.

How many catalogs do you send out and where do you get your mailing list? We used to solicit lists of members of clubs of muzzle loading rifle shooters. We soon got away from that and most of our mailing list now is made of customers or people who have been referred to us or maybe have seen an ad some place. Primarily customers. We do not solicit any mailing lists and we don't send out our catalogs blind because we have a very select group of people who want it. The average person doesn't want it.

Do you sell to Conner Prairie Farm? To a point. We have sold them some of the costumes they use in their restaurant.

Why would anyone want a shoe you could wear on either foot? It is easier to make. There was a time in the British Army when they were required to keep their shoes longer. They had to switch shoes every day. We don't do that. Until you put them on and decide which foot you want those shoes on they will fit either foot. After you wear them a while it feels really odd to switch. Just for kicks I did that the last time I went to an event. I could only stand it for a little while and then I changed back.

Do you advertise? Yes, we advertise in six or seven magazines. They are directed to muzzle loading rifle shooters or to historical reenactors. They are not very wide circulation magazines. Probably the largest one only has a circulation of 20,000. We gain new customers mainly by going to events where people have never seen us before.

Do you sell to Williamsburg? We sell some things to Williamsburg. The fife and drum corps at Williamsburg all wear hunting frocks we made. They were in this game a long time before we were. Some of the clothing they wear at Williamsburg they sewed the shirts all up and made them open in the back because the fellows wanted to leave their shirts unbuttoned. For a while reenactors were all wearing shirts that unbuttoned in the back. Then they discovered that shirts of the period were never made like that. That is something they came up with in Williamsburg to keep people looking OK.

We do specifically Revolutionary War plus or minus a few years. That's the center of the time period we use. We do French and Indian War period which was roughly 1750, 1760 - the Colonial period. Then we do specifically Revolutionary War events, and we also do War of 1812. That is what we do at the Battle of Mississinewa, Marion, Ind.

We try to do a rather wide time period. We have to cut it off because the styling of clothing changed so radically in the early 1800s that clothing like this was totally obsolete by 1820. 1820 was about the end of the knee breeches. They were worn on formal occasions by some older men up until about 1820. After that it was long trousers. Even in 1805 they were getting into longer trousers that looked like long breeches made to button down around the cuff. They were real tight. The clothing for the ladies changed a lot, too. They had a low cut neck line and they were all a filmy type of material. That style (fad) went real fast because a lot of ladies caught pneumonia. That is true.

What materials are in your shirt and jacket? Everything we make garments out of and everything we sell is made out of some kind of natural fiber. It has to be linen, wool or cotton. I don't know what else they would have used.

Are they wrinkle free? You have to be kidding! There is nothing wrinkles worse than linen. Nobody here is wearing a vest. This is a waistcoat, pronounced "wes'cot". Waistcoats and vests were always worn in the presence of polite company - which means women. You never saw even a blacksmith working at a forge without his "wes'cot" on. They were likely to be linen. It was proper. It may seem to be terribly hot, but I wore these same clothes to France a couple of years ago, and it was 95 in the shade over there all the time. It is not too bad wearing natural fibers. What kills you is wearing nylon, polyesters and things which don't absorb the moisture.