Back to Back Adirondacks: Swarthmore’s Obsession With Lawn Chairs

5 mins read

Here at Swarthmore, we tend to take the subtle majesty of the Adirondack chair for granted. From Big Chair to the flock of brilliant white chairlings that reside on Parrish Beach to the jaded, wooden chairs on the expanse of lawn between Kohlberg and Sci Center, the Adirondack chair is inescapable on this campus. They remain a constant in our lives, a perpetual marker of our community. Yet, the constant bombardment of Adirondack chairs and chair-related paraphernalia (Swarthmore Class of 2022 stickers, anyone?) leads the chairs to disappear into the background and become invisible.

Adirondack chairs, sometimes referred to as Muskoka chairs in Canada, originated in Westport, New York in the early twentieth century. Needing a place to calm down and relax during the summer months, a man named Thomas Lee sought to invent the perfect chair. He endeavored to craft a chair that would be able to withstand the weather and temperament of the Adirondack mountains while simultaneously providing the sitter with an incomparable level of comfort and ease. Such a task may have seemed daunting to our noble protagonist at first, but he didn’t forfeit his dream of the perfect chair. He simply focused and tooled around until, finally, he found the perfect balance between form and function. After having tested many a chair with his family serving as human guinea pigs, Lee finally created the apotheosis of sitting receptacles: the Westport chair.

The Westport chair, traditionally made with the back and the seat crafted from single slabs of wood, was a predecessor to our contemporary Adirondack chairs. Over the years, the already-infallible design underwent a series of style changes. Either for aesthetic appeal, greater design convenience, or both, the armrests grew slightly thinner. The back became composed of many thin slats of wood instead of one monstrous slab. The sharp angularity of the Westport chair disappeared. The chair became more sleek, more polished, and, if it was even possible, more refined until it became the Adirondack chair that we all know and love.

Before coming to Swarthmore, I never imagined that a piece of lowly lawn furniture would ever play such a pivotal role in my life. Swat’s Adirondack chairs, however, have fashioned a solid backdrop for a surprising number of memories that I’ve created during my time here. Acts of friendship, naps, and impromptu outdoor study sessions are always enhanced by the addition of the wide armrests and smoothly-sloping curvature of an Adirondack chair. The chairs provide a perfect avenue for people-watching in the summertime and a place for cold meditation in the fall. When the chairs leave to hibernate for the winter, their absence so profoundly resounds throughout the Swarthmore campus and community that one can’t help but reflect on the ethereal nature of time and the false permanence of the objects around us.

Above all else, the chairs, and especially Big Chair, make our minds wander and our hearts flutter. We join in unison to denounce the perpetrators when the chairs are brutally attacked, and we laugh together when we consider the preposterous notion that Big Chair is actually a normally-sized chair that is just very, very close. It’s just funny that our pride and joy at this college is a disproportionately-sized chair that we all know we would defend to the death if it ever came to that. We bond over the chairs because even on such a small and intimate campus, we all lead diverse lives that take us in different directions every day. Sometimes we just need a shared experience to bond over as a community. The Adirondack chairs gleefully littering our campus provide us with exactly that — a steady parameter, equal parts utilitarian and frivolous, that cohesively ties us together as a community.


Anatole Shukla '22 is a senior from Fort Wayne, IN. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of The Phoenix.

1 Comment

  1. Any relationship between the Westport chair and the true ADK chair is tenuous at best. It’s more likely that the ADK chair was conceived by a guide or Great Camp caretaker in the off season. Components could be hand sawed from whatever was at hand while the Westport chair used broader planks and is full of maddening angles.

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