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Editorial: New chapter for Lamson & Goodnow

A business does not stick around for 177 years without hitting a few troublesome patches.

That’s not to say that the news coming from Lamson & Goodnow Manufacturing Co. isn’t something to worry about. The nation’s oldest cutlery business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week. That filing, according to the United States Courts website, usually means a debtor is proposing “... a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive and pay creditors over time.”

In this case, according to information from the federal court in Springfield, the company filed for bankruptcy protection because of two loans of more than $3 million that it cannot pay back.

In published reports, James Pelletier, chief operating officer of the company, says that the bankruptcy protection will allow the company time to get itself back under more solid footing, especially with a change in management that occurred earlier this year.

While this is encouraging, one question that this bankruptcy filing has raised is whether the company will continue to operate on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls, on the bank of the Deerfield River, where water wheels first powered its machinery. The company has put its 18.3-acre factory complex, with seven buildings, up for sale with an asking price of $2.1 million. We would hate to think that this means the end of a relationship between the company and this side of the village has existed since 1851.

It’s quite a history. The Lamson family — Silas, his wife Susan and six sons from Worcester County — arrived there a decade before the Civil War with a “bent” toward manufacturing that impelled them to produce steamed, bent “snaths” or long, curved scythe handles. Prior to their method, craftsmen had scoured the woods looking for tree branches of just the right shape. When scythes became less a necessity with the introduction of mowing machines, the Lamsons switched their manufacturing efforts to cutlery and brought on board A.F. Goodnow in 1844 to modernize production techniques using water-powered drop hammers and sheet steel. According to the “History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II,” by Louis H. Everts, “more than 500 styles of cutlery for table use, cook-, butcher-, hunting- and carving-knives are made, from the common to the most elaborate kinds ...”

Manufacturing and employment of residents in the Buckland/Shelburne area are just part of the connection for the community. For example, the company once provided a strip of land that was necessary for the building of Memorial Hall.

Everyone recognizes that times change. Lamson & Goodnow may no longer employ hundreds of workers, but the firm remains woven into the fabric of the village and Franklin County.

We join all those who now are watching — and hoping — for the company to successfully emerge from Chapter 11 protection.

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