By DENISE FEDOROW
A community with a strong tradition of woodworking — particularly kitchen cabinet manufacturing — has decided to make it an official celebration with the establishment of the first National Hoosier Cabinet Day on Friday.
Larry Andrews, marketing director of Coppes Commons in Nappanee, said the idea came about because of a book he read about the history of Hoosier Cabinets. Thomas Mast, owner and developer of Coppes Commons, once the original site of Coppes Kitchens, has also delved into the history of Coppes and has hosted reunions of former employees.
Andrews said Oct. 12 was chosen because that is reportedly the date when Coppes & Mutschler — two cabinet companies operating within blocks of each other in Nappanee merged. Even though the original Coppes factory was abandoned for years and is now being developed into a collection of unique shops and countryside shops showcase, Coppes Cabinets is still in operation just across the street in a smaller, more modern facility. It is America’s oldest continuous manufacturer of fine kitchen furniture.
Andrews said they also wanted to establish this national day to celebrate and increase awareness of the fact that “Nappanee still continues that tradition of fine, quality woodworking craftsmanship — we had it but it still continues today.”
Coppes made the Hoosier cabinets that they also called Dutch Maid Kitchenette or Coppes Napanee Kitchenette. The concept of the Hoosier cabinet was that it kept everything close at hand — it was originally supplied with various racks and hardware to hold spices and other staples, had a flour bin, a sugar bin and canisters for coffee and tea. A common feature of the cabinets was cards with kitchen measurements, menus, etc. on the inside of the door.
In fact, Herbert Hoover as secretary of commerce, commissioned a time and motion study to determine ways to make the American housewife more efficient. The study concluded that by using a Coppes Dutch Maid Kitchenette the housewife could save 75 percent of her time and energy spent in the kitchen. Hoover also once made a train stop in Nappanee.
By 1920, two million Hoosier cabinets had been sold by Coppes alone. Because of its continued growth, Coppes added on to its factory buildings 13 times, even closing off the recently re-opened Lincoln Street with an addition. Coppes sold kitchen cabinets all over the country to average Americans and to the rich and famous, including movie stars Hedy LaMarr, Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Sinatra, sports personalities Ben Hogan and Phil Cavaretta and industrialists, including the DuPonts, Fords and Fairlesses. In 1942, Coppes introduced production of the Lazy Susan.
A two-day celebration is planned for this inaugural event. On Oct. 12 a bus tour of local kitchen cabinet factories will leave Coppes Commons at 9 a.m. and visit Ayr Cabinets factory and showroom and Kountry Wood Products factory and Kountry Wood Products showroom.
A Dutch Maid Kitchenette reproduction will be built by Coppes for this event and will be on display at Coppes Commons throughout the event.
At 1 p.m. a historic district walking tour of the Coppes & Mutschler homes will leave from Coppes Commons.
The Nappanee Center, which houses a large display of Hoosier cabinets, will be open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday highlighting “Nappanee Kitchens — a well-crafted legacy.”
The celebration will continue on Saturday with social time for former Coppes and Mutschler employees beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the Upper Room Event Center at Coppes Commons. At 9 a.m. an official welcome and proclamation by Mayor Larry Thompson will be made, followed by a presentation on the history of Nappanee kitchen cabinets and the unveiling of the Nappanee woodworking heritage sign, recently moved to the Coppes Commons property.
Also as part of the National Hoosier Cabinet Day a Woodworking Hall of Fame is being introduced with the induction of four founders of the woodworking heritage in Nappanee.
For children a pie baking activity is planned for Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Nappanee Bakery inside Coppes Commons.
Andrews stressed this was a community event and said the event was a great opportunity to let people in the area know — “If you want finely made finely crafted wood items, Nappanee is the place to come!”
All events are open to the public. Those planning to attend the Saturday morning celebration in the Upper Room are asked to RSVP to Larry Andrews at Landrews@coppescommons.com or by calling (574) 773-0002.