Water Street in Orono is the center of a movement to create Maine-made perfection.
And it’s done one paddle at a time.
That’s because Shaw & Tenney, a family-owned business that produces oars, paddles, and other hand-crafted items for consumers and businesses alike, is standing strong in an economy that’s often after what’s quick and easy.
But there’s nothing quick or easy about what Shaw & Tenney produces. In fact, every piece that leaves the workshop has to meet a strict standard of perfection. And that’s one reason why the company has been tapped to create the 100th anniversary paddles for L.L. Bean.
Another reason? The company’s longevity. Since 1858 Shaw & Tenney — originally known as the Orono Manufacturing Company — has been producing high-quality wood products for Mainers. And the company did it during the height of the lumber and forestry boom, expanding over time to meet the needs of a changing face of Maine.
In the 1890s, a merger between owner Frank Tenney’s Orono Manufacturing Company and a Boston-based business named the George Shaw Company created Shaw & Tenney and moved the business to Orono. In 1950, Shaw & Tenney moved to its current location on Water Street.
Shaw & Tenney took the natural resource being delivered via river and created products for mariners, loggers, and recreational boaters. And 154 years later, the company is still making a name for itself as the leader for hand-crafted oars, paddles, boats, specialty items, and accessories.
The Tenney family owned the company until 1970, when it transitioned from owner to owner. In 1978, it was purchased by Paul and Helen Reagan. At that point the Reagans expanded Shaw & Tenney’s product line and brought it into a retail environment. In 2003, ownership of the business passed on to Steve Holt and Nancy Forster-Holt, who manage it today along with their sons.
And while technology and a changing economic environment have advanced the business, the craftsmanship has stayed the same. Each paddle, oar, or product that comes out of Shaw & Tenney today is held to strict standards and is crafted by hand. The machinery the craftsmen use enable them to be precise, yet adapt based on the wood they have in hand.
“The special thing about [our products are] the craftsmen who make them,” said Steve Holt at a recent media event announcing the L.L. Bean partnership. “Watch them as they work and you’ll see their hand-eye coordination. Every piece they handle is looked at. If it’s not perfect, it doesn’t leave the shop.”
Recently, Shaw & Tenney added laser engraving to its options, opening the door for special items like the L.L. Bean paddles. And items from Shaw & Tenney’s workshop will appear in Steven Spielburg’s 2012 movie “Lincoln.”
With the L.L. Bean project, wood reclaimed from Quakish Lake in Maine’s northern woods by West Branch Heritage Timber is being turned into 100th anniversary canoe paddles.
“We’re very proud to make L.L. Bean’s 100th anniversary paddle,” Holt said. “L.L. Bean is an icon in the state. They’re known all over the world. And in our little niche, Shaw & Tenney is known worldwide for making oars and paddles.”
West Branch Heritage TImber is undertaking one of the largest reclamation projects in New England history, Holt noted. The company is starting to retrieve 1 million cords of preserved timber from the depths of the West Branch of the Penobscot River. That timber consists of wood from the days of the riverdrivers and even before them. And it’s mostly hardwood that lies beneath the depths.
“For us, the choice to work with Shaw & Tenney and West Branch Heritage Timber on the creation of this very unique paddle was a simple one,” said Mac McKeever, senior public relations representative for L.L. Bean. “Both companies have values that mirror those of L.L. Bean: a love of Maine and its precious natural resources, exemplary customer service, an appreciation of and a commitment to quality, and a company culture of respect and integrity.”
For more information about Shaw & Tenney, visit www.shawandtenney.com. For more information about West Branch Heritage Timber, visit www.westbranchtimber.com.