Historical Society Acquires Desk Made by Short Hills Founder

The following story was written by Item editor Harry Trumbore:

"The large drafting desk arrived at the Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County in Winston-Salem, N.C., in December. The donor hoped it could be included in an auction of items to raise money for the organization.

Xavier Justiniano-Gonzalez, The Habitat's ReStore manager, noticed an inscription carved into the desk: "Custom-Built by Stewart Hartshorn - Short Hills, N.J." Justiniano-Gonzalez searched the Internet to learn who Stewart Hartshorn was, and his search led him to the Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society.

The manager said his organization believed the desk could fetch around $800 in the auction, but being a history buff himself, he hoped the historical society could buy it and put it into their collection. He discussed with his staff, and they unanimously decided to offer it to the historical society for $625, which the society agreed to pay.

"We had no idea Stewart Hartshorn, or more likely his business, ever made furniture," Lynne Ranieri, the society's curator told The Item at the time, "but it clearly says 'Custom-built by Stewart Hartshorn...' and not 'Custom-built for...'"

Ranieri, who researched the provenance of the desk, noted that following World War II, 60 percent of all furniture made in America was produced within a 150-mile radius of High Point, N.C. Hartshorn, she said, owned lumber mills to manufacture the roller portion of his window shades.

A few inquiries to movers in the Winston-Salem area led the society to one who would transport a single item and the best estimate received was $800. As the society operates on a shoestring budget, a plea was made in The Item for any donations to offset the cost of bringing the 300-pound piece of furniture back.

The response was immediate and generous: within a couple of days, half the cost was raised. What's more, within a week, Nicholas M. Dawes, a township resident and vice president of special collections for Heritage Auction Galleries in New York, international antiques dealer, who is an auction director, writer, lecturer and "Antiques Roadshow" appraiser, called to say he would pick up the desk and deliver it to Millburn. Dawes offered to absorb a significant portion of the shipping expense, so the balance could be covered by the donations from residents and supporters.

The desk was safely delivered to Millburn on April 10. Thanks to the help of town officials, it is temporarily stored upstairs in Town Hall.

According to society President Debbie Frank, the society's museum at the Short Hills train station is "stuffed to bursting." The historic Parsil House at the intersection of Parsonage and White Oak Ridge roads, is slated to become the society's headquarters. As soon as construction and renovation work is done to the interior of Parsil house, the desk will be moved there.

"The Parsil House is a more humble abode than a place Stewart Hartshorn would have lived in," Frank told The Item, "but this is not the question you want to get hung up on. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!"

The last act of great kindness in the desk's journey back to Stewart Hartshorn's village, unfolded when, just as the desk arrived in Millburn, local architect and historical society board member Thomas Baio dropped off a check to pay for the purchase of Stewart Hartshorn's drafting desk.

"Yet another bit of serendipity in the desk's long trip back home, through the years and on the road," observed Ranieri last week.

Baio, a society board member and past president, said he made the donation out of a "poetic" sense of obligation.

"It was part of my duty to ensure the (historical) continuity," he said. Despite our technological age, Baio maintains a person's desk is "the genesis of all creation," a place where ideas take shape.

"Stewart Hartshorn created this town from this desk," Baio said.

Donations to the historical society are always welcome. To make a donation, checks made out to the Millburn-Short Hills Historic Society" can be sent to PO Box 243, Short Hills 07078. Donations also may be made through PayPal on the society's website at www.mshhistsoc.org.

Email: trumbore@northjersey.com"