A cure chair is a reclining chair designed to facilitate the fresh air cure of pulmonary tuberculosis. The original design came from a young physician, Dr. Peter Dettweiler, who was a patient of Dr. Brehmer's sanatorium in Germany. Bremer had founded the first sanatorium using the fresh air cure. Dettweiler devised a combination of bed and chair that, according to Dr. Lawrason Brown, who brought the design to Saranac Lake, "makes sitting out for patients without much strength a pleasure. The back was movable and with cushions it was far superior to the ordinary steamer chair. Dr. Dettweiler's chair was taken as a model when the author devised the Adirondack Recliner." 1
At least four cure chair designs were patented by people from Saranac Lake. Franklin Mangam filed a design in 1912. Real estate agent Clinton J. Ayres filed his patent design in 1913. Before becoming a real estate agent, he worked for Starks Hardware, who later sold a cure chair of a design similar to Ayers'. Adirondack Hardware owner George L. Starks patented a design in May, 1921. Contractor Richard E. Malone patented his design in March, 1921.
Tuberculosis patients spent anywhere from a substantial fraction to all of their waking hours in bed — not just for days or weeks but for months and, often, years. A special piece of furniture was required to accommodate the special needs of such a life— its generic name is "'cure chair"'.
The Adirondack Hardware Company manufactured a cure chair that they called the Adirondack Recliner at their building at 28 Broadway, designed by owner George Starks. It was Starks' most famous product and his unique contribution to the culture of curing and to regional craft. The Adirondack Recliner could be called simply a glorified chaise-lounge. It functioned as one, with a back that could be lowered by degrees from vertical to horizontal. Aside from that, it was built as wide as possible for comfort but just narrow enough to fit through a standard doorway. It had wide, flat armrests and a thick, firm mattress supported by a legion of coil springs and steel straps. It also was equipped with casters. Finally, it was extremely sturdily constructed of the highest quality materials.
Adirondack Hardware was not the only builder of cure chairs. The most notable competitor was the J. J. O'Connell Company of Saranac Lake. But the competition was really quite minimal. The Adirondack Recliner was not only built to be used constantly and to last indefinitely, it was very aggressively marketed. Starks had agents all over the United States and in Europe selling his cure chair. It is not known how many thousands were eventually made but, in Saranac Lake, at least, a good many Adirondack Recliners are still in use. Anyone who has spent a cool evening on an open porch bundled up on one of these relics of the curing era will understand why.
Adapted from original text by Philip L. Gallos; see Adirondack Hardware Company
WATCH Curiously Adirondack: The Adirondack Mountain Village of Saranac Lake Remembers Its Curative Past produced by Josh Clement and Ed Kanze.
Most of us have heard William Faulkner's famous line about the past not being dead. His wisdom is nowhere more apparent than in the Adirondack Mountain village of Saranac Lake. Here, from the 1880s to the 1950s and a little bit beyond, tuberculosis patients arrived from near and far to rest on porches, breathe crisp pine-scented mountain air, and get well or die trying. Antibiotic therapy eventually put the village's sanitariums and cure cottages out of business. Still, in architecture, memory, story, and a heart-breaking poem penned by a brilliant young woman who didn't get well, the village's rich past remains vibrant and alive.
1. Brown, Dr. Lawrason, Rules for Recovery from pulmonary tuberculosis: a layman's handbook of treatment, third edition, Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia, 1919. Full text here