HARRISON — A camp wilderness trip director from Missouri is on a mission to replace 60-year-old chairs that were manufactured in a South Paris plant and used in a local camp dining room.

“It’s really quite a saga,” Jamie Bollinger, who began a journal to document his efforts to find about 50 chairs this past summer, said. They will replace ones used by hundreds of boys at Camp Owatonna on Long Lake for more than half a century.

The wooden slatted folding chairs were made by the Paris Manufacturing Co., which closed its Western Avenue doors in 1989 after more than a century of manufacturing everything from sleds and toboggans to children’s desks and chairs.

Bollinger believes the chairs he is hoping to replace were made in the 1940s or early 1950s because they are more sturdy than ones the camp had from the same company when it opened in 1921.

Although female campers at their sister Camp Newfound for Girls sit on benches, Bollinger said he did not want to replace the chairs with benches because boys tend to slouch on benches but sit up straight in the chairs. And with the Christian Scientist-based camp placing great emphasis on character, this was important to its camp mission, he said.

Bollinger said he began his search for replacement camp chairs at a tag sale in Harrison, where he spotted the chairs he needed inside the local Grange Hall.

“I said, ‘Do you want to sell them?’ and they said, ‘No way.’” Bollinger was soon to find out how valuable, both sentimentally and otherwise, the chairs were. “Granges and churches seem to be loaded with them.”

So the search continued. “One person led to another,” he said.

One day Bollinger said he was wandering around Paris near the former Paris Manufacturing Co. building when someone asked him if he needed help.

“Dennis Ames (manger of operations) walked me through the structure looking for chairs. It was like a treasure hunt,” Bollinger said of the unexpected tour.

“We didn’t have any here, but I’m a member of the Congregational Church in South Paris,” Ames said. “We had some wooden folding chairs in our vestry area that we were not using. They had been sitting there for years. I sent him to talk to our minister, Don Mayberry.”

“It was a gold mine of South Paris chairs,” Bollinger said of the First Congregational Church in Paris.

While Mayberry felt obligated to save the chairs because most were donated from parishioners over the years, he sent Bollinger on his way to the West Paris Congregational Church.

“I met George Kimball, and he told me about the Lewiston Sun Spots,” he said of the popular daily Sun Journal column in which readers ask questions and provide information to other readers.

On Aug. 30, Bollinger asked Sun Spots for help with the following question:

“DEAR SUN SPOTS: I am seeking folding wooden chairs from the South Paris Mfg. Co. These chairs were manufactured in the mid-1900s up to the 1960s. We are in need of them for a nonprofit summer camp in Harrison. We have been using these chairs in our dining room for the past 60 years and are in need of replacing the worn-out ones. We would like to obtain 45 to 50 chairs but will consider any number that you may have . . .”

More sources for the chairs started to roll in.

A woman from Lewiston answered saying she had 17 of the chairs. She drove them over to the camp, where her mother had once played the organ for the campers.

Bollinger said he missed out on about 100 of the chairs that had just been sold by a local church, but he found some in Topsham.

“George Hall called me from a Grange Hall and said they have a bunch they want to get rid of,” Bollinger said. It was a good find, he said, but the Grange wanted $15 a chair instead of the usual $6 or $7 he was seeing for the chairs. Although tempting, Bollinger said the chairs were not only more expensive but an earlier model than those at the camp and not really sturdy enough for the boys.

While his search has slowed down over the winter while he is home in Missouri, Bollinger said he is still looking.

Anyone with information about Paris Manufacturing Co. chairs may contact Bollinger in St. Louis, Mo., at 314-378-0195 or Peter Whitchurch at 712-8864.

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