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Around 1849, W. P. Torrans left Mobile, Alabama for Jefferson, Texas to capitalize on a newly developed packet steamboat navigation route joining New Orleans and this new inland port. Traveling on the new route enabled people, cargo and goods access to travel times as little as seven days. Prior to its discovery, normal methods of transportation were limited to walking, horseback, wagon or stagecoach. Each was onerous, dangerous and lengthy requiring at least several weeks with constant exposure to weather, bandits, Indians and mishap. Steamboats provided much faster, secure and pleasurable travel. An investment here could return several fold.
Jefferson is named for Thomas Jefferson and is situated on the banks of Big Cypress Bayou which flows into the Caddo Lake system then to the Red River in Louisiana culminating into the Mississippi river. Torrans Manufacturing Company was formally established in 1850 as Jefferson began its rise to prominence as one of the largest inland riverports in the nation. It soon earned the name “Riverport to the Southwest” shipping and receiving thousands of tons of goods each month and transporting just as great a number of souls to their own frontier destinations. Jefferson was the prime “jumping off” point for anyone traveling west into Texas or north into Oklahoma and Arkansas.
In the early days and until about WW I, Torrans Manufacturing catered to those settling and clearing land, farming, building houses, barns and stores, shipping goods downriver plus importing products from as far away and the Orient and most of Europe. Anything that could be bought in New Orleans was in stock or just a short wait away. The company offered such things as tools, harness and lumber, hardware for every imaginable need, oils, dynamite, guns, fine china, silverware, furniture or anything not needing to be feed. Several product lines and materials such as furniture, harness, lumber and shingles bore the Torrans Manufacturing Company label. The company kept massive warehouses which dotted the town as well as a large store area with an army of clerks serving customers.
Much of the boom town exuberance ended near the turn of the twentieth century. Jefferson with its river access and steamboats shunned the many railroads laying lines from Houston, Dallas, Shreveport and beyond. A natural log jam in the Red River had been cleared allowing the waters of Big Cypress bayou and Caddo Lake to drain without abatement leaving the area with undependable navigable for much of the year. Other cities that joined in with expansion of the railroads took away many of Jefferson’s businesses and citizens. By the start of WW I the town was forced to concede that river travel had played out.
In these later years, Torrans became more of a hardware store, producing less of its own name brand products while relying on stock goods from others. Still the store provided a huge list of products and was a destination for everyone on their Saturday trips to town. This system lasted until the very early 1960’s when the stock and last remaining building was sold to a long time employee. After one hundred and ten years, Torrans Manufacturing Company and Torrans Hardware ceased business operations.
In 1995, Louis (Skip) and Kathy Torrans reestablished the original name offering reclaimed antique pine and cypress lumber, quality handmade furniture and cabinetry. Shortly after, Skip designed his own version of an Adirondack chair dubbed the East Texas Adirondack using a typical wooden frame but incorporating seats and backs from recovered stamped metal lawn chairs and gliders. Seeing a need to provide quality vintage accurate metal lawn furniture to a ready market, his attention was directed to manufacturing reproductions of 50s style lawn chairs. Starting with a single chair available in five colors only, the line soon grew to include gliders and a larger color pallet. From here additional vintage pieces were acquired and reproduced reaching a total of six classic chairs, three gliders, three styles of tables, bar sets and two vintage style coolers and all available in a large selection of colors.
While acquiring pieces to reproduce and create tooling, Skip soon realized historical information covering the old manufacturers and their products was in very short supply. He began his own historical investigation picking up bits and pieces here and there from individuals associated in manufacturing, distributing and selling the original pieces. Finally, a slightly less than complete picture was painted of the furniture’s history and its manufacturers. Skip has begun writing a book on his explorations which covers a few well documented manufacturers plus a good bit of known history on others while some of the more indistinct ones defy full definition. Still, this research appears to be the only work done on the subject. Torrans Manufacturing Company, LLC has amassed the largest historical accounting and data base of vintage style stamped metal lawn furniture known to exist.