BENNINGTON — Dozens of people came out despite the cold weather on Saturday morning to see the return of a local landmark that had been gone for more than a decade: the almost 20-foot-tall ladderback chair outside the furniture store at the intersection of Northside Drive and Harwood Hill.
The “Big Chair,” as it’s known locally, sat in front of the Haynes & Kane Furniture Store from 1969 until 2000. Haynes & Kane closed in 2006 but the building reopened this year as LaFlamme’s. New owner Christopher LaFlamme had a new chair built, similar to the old chair, which was unveiled Saturday.
LaFlamme said he appreciated the affection people had for the chair.
“I’m blown away. We knew (bringing back the chair) was the right thing to do and sometimes you just do the right thing because it’s the right thing. It just made sense on a lot of different levels and you don’t always necessarily expect people to notice when you do something so it’s been very, very generous of the community to show up, to support it the way they have. It’s great,” he said.
A large crowd of people gathered as LaFlamme, with the help of local children whom he invited to join him, pulled the blue plastic tarp off the chair. He also cut a symbolic ribbon with the help of Bill and Kathy Haynes, who represented the previous store.
“It’s just wonderful. It brings back a lot of memories going way back. Way, way back,” Bill Haynes said afterward.
Kathy Haynes said the family was “delighted” when LaFlamme told them they were bringing back the chair and said the new version was a “great replica.”
A final piece was presented by Jensen’s Restaurant in Bennington: a sign that hung on the previous chair that declared it the world’s biggest. At a meeting of Bennington’s Historic Preservation Commission in April, LaFlamme said he was aware of the claim made on the sign but hadn’t been able to find any proof that the chair had actually been named the world’s largest by an organization like Guinness World Records.
The chair was built by three local men, Scott Hutton, Barry Bishop and Joe Curran, and Paula LaPorte, who did all the weaving for the seat of the chair. LaFlamme said it was assembled on-site on Friday.
Curran, of Shaftsbury, said he was pleased to have been involved with restoring a landmark he remembered from his own childhood.
“I drove by this all the time when I was a kid and I live just three miles down the road. This was how you gave directions — ‘make a left at the big chair’ or ‘take a right at the big chair.’ It’s nice to see it back,” he said.
Many people at the event commented on the chair’s reputation as a literal landmark, something people used to direct people around the Bennington area because it stood out so strongly even on the busy commercial corridor of Northside Drive.
Tim Hutton, Scott’s brother, said he was proud of Scott’s involvement in restoring the landmark.
“I got a picture when I was probably in 11th grade on the old, original chair and just to see it come back like this is awesome. For my brother to have a chance to build it and bring it back to Bennington just makes it even more special,” said Hutton, a Bennington native.
Steve Engle, of Bennington, brought his grandson, John Davis, to the unveiling.
“I figured the chair was always an icon. … I wanted to be able to bring John here so he would be able to tell his grandson someday that he got to see the unveiling of it. I think that’s pretty cool,” he said.
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