By Joan Ekstrom
Tucked away inside a hardware store from a by-gone era is one of the town of Rutledge’s best kept secrets. Built in 1891, Rutledge Hardware stands as a testament to time. A time that perhaps moved a little slower, a time when handmade items were the standard and a thing well-made could last generations.
Approaching on Fairplay Street, as you cross the railroad tracks, look to your right and you may see Paul Jones, owner of ye olde hardware store. Herbs, vegetables and flowers rotate by season on the sleepy sidewalk, where there is always time to chew the fat with a neighbor or two. A glance in the display window keeps with the old-fashioned theme. There you see Martinez Pottery for sale, hand-turned in the U.S.A. and represented by bowls, pitchers, crocks and churns, all of which come in handy for country living.
In 1997 Jones became only the fourth owner of the store in 106 years. Paul purchased the landmark store “as is” with much of the vintage inventory still on the shelves. Under the building’s 14-foot tall ceilings, displayed side by side, are today’s hardware needs next to antique and vintage inventory from Rutledge’s heyday. Small things such as Prince Albert in the can or large things like the nuts and bolts cabinet built from heart pine a century ago. Jones also sells seeds and fertilizer and you can find black cast iron skillets and lye for making soap. However, these are only small and needful things that can be very distracting from the wonderful life and activity that happens just beyond the door of the main room. The fresh and pungent smell of newly cut wood or the burr of a saw might be your first hint. The secret revealed: Mr. Jones is a carpenter. And not just any carpenter, his craft is reproduction American antique and primitive furniture.
Paul learned his skill from his father, Wade Jones, who was born in 1910 and Wade learned his craft from his father, Jim Jones. Paul’s dad traveled the area with Bill Richardson in the 1920s and ’30s with a traveling saw mill. Building furniture since 1975, Paul purchased the old building across the street (now Back to Wellness offices) in 1984 and began a thriving wood working business with as many as 12 employees. When the demand for his product was at a high, he and his wife Pam were sending two truckloads of furniture a month to Connecticut. Eventually business was slowed by the changing economy, and Jones sold the building in 2005, moving his factory into the back room of Rutledge Hardware, which nowadays suits him just fine.
Today Paul can be found hand-crafting some of the finest furniture around. And it is the attention to detail that sets Paul Jones Reproduction Americana Furniture apart; details such as his ability to recreate historic patterns and his use of old-fashioned milk paint. The Genuine Old Fashioned Home Made Milk Paint can be purchased from the store comes in 20 historic colors, with wonderful names like Pitch Black, Soldier Blue, Barn Red, Tavern Green and Pumpkin. And the slogan on the box says, “Love it or it’s Free, Money Back Guarantee.” Paul says the milk paint is incredibly durable. As tradition would have it, Paul and Pam’s son, also Wade, has followed in the wood working craft. As a fourth generation wood-crafter, Wade has joined his father in producing custom cabinets, beds and tables. They are also adept at custom wood turning and can copy most old woodwork such as balusters and spindles. Wade the younger and his partner, Brittany Harvey, have recently become very active in the family business and call their products Stillhouse Furniture and Craft Company. At the time of this writing, Wade and Brittany are preparing for the Oconee Fall Festival scheduled for Oct. 19th in downtown Watkinsville. When you meet them and talk with them, you soon realize that this is not just a hobby for these young people, but a passion. Both kids grew up right here in Rutledge and feel that what they are doing now has been a culmination of their lives up to this point. Brittany produces decorative re-purposed items for the home which she likes to call “up-cycling.” This includes items such as picture frames, wreaths and signage with cool quotes, all in the rustic, primitive feel that goes well with the furniture. Stillhouse is proud to be creating products made in America. Paul and Pam Jones couldn’t be happier with the way things are progressing. Wade and Brittany are very happy to be able to source from his parents their knowledge and experience in the field and feel that with the skills of the past and the social networking available today they can make quality, built-to-last furniture available to future generations. Building a bridge from the best of the past and taking it into the future, one handmade piece of furniture at a time.
The day I visited Paul, shared an easy recipe for chicken using a black skillet. He says set your oven temperature at 375 degrees. Lay leg and thigh quarters skin side up in skillet, add salt and pepper with a little garlic. Turn halfway through baking time. And in about an hour-and-a-half Paul says, “Supper’s ready!”
Rutledge Hardware and Paul Jones, woodworker, are another good reason to visit us here in downtown Rutledge… Small but special.