“Did you hear that? The way the buffet seemed to creak and settle?”

“Yeah, almost like a sigh.”

The buffet had started life as a stand of trees in what later became Tecumseh County, Michigan. After the brushfires of war with the natives and the British died down, lumber men had come up from the south with their axes and saws. The area was well-served by rivers which were deep and wide enough to float logs on, and when the lumber boom came in the 1880s, the trees found themselves in the center of a large logging camp known as Reid’s Slashing.

Cut down in the first expansion of the camp, the logs were floated downriver to Muskegon, where they went through a riverside sawmill and emerged as rough lumber. Then it was up the Grand River to Grand Rapids, the great Furniture City and boomtown of the hour. Berkley and Sons, a fast-growing furniture maker destined to become the state’s greatest carpentry concern until its collapse in the Great Depression, bought the lumber. Finished into a buffet in the then-fashionable style, it was loaded onto the Grand Rapids & Indian Railroad, ultimately destined for Chicago.

Gilded Age Chicago was booming in its own way, a center of railroads, meat-packing, and other heavy industry. The buffet quickly found a buyer in an up-and-coming district, changing hands several times before winding up on the South Side just before the second World War thanks to a pair of newlyweds and a garage sale. It held everything from knickknacks to wedding feasts over the next 40 years, before the crippling urban decay of the late 1970s and early 1980s forced the buffet’s owners to the suburbs.

30 years later, one of their grandchildren and his wife found the furniture in a storage unit where it had lay for almost a decade following the deaths of its owners. They loaded it up on a truck for their vacation home to the north–up in Michigan, in the blighted buckle of the Rust Belt, the boom days long since past. Setting it up in their second home, an old lumber baron’s mansion in the Tecumseh County seat of Deerton, they had both been startled by the strange, earthy noise it had made upon being set down.

Thing is, Deerton had grown up from the nucleus of the Reid’s Slashing lumber camp. The old house had been built in the heart of the Slashing, where the first trees had been logged long ago. For those old boards, sitting where they had once grown, they weren’t just decorating another living room.

They had come home.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!