The Henkel-Harris legacy started from humble beginnings. After serving in the Second World War, Carroll Henkel and his wife, Mary made the decision to enter into the furniture business. Knowing very little about the craft, the Henkels decided to begin this business venture with their friend, John Harris. In 1946, The Henkels rented their first building and began making furniture. Since they were so inexperienced, they spent countless hours studying woodwork and learning all that they could about the craft. Mary and Carroll would spend hours viewing antique furniture and attempting to recreate the same type of woodwork and quality that these pieces possessed. While trying to gain a foothold, the Henkels also began working as furniture repairmen. This opportunity allowed them to perfect their finishing techniques and gave them a greater understanding of the antique furniture that they regarded so highly. The experience gained from this endeavor led to the creation of the acclaimed Henkel Harris finish, which is still regarded for its high clarity, durability, and overall quality.
After many years of hard work, the Henkels employed five other workers and were slowly gaining the reputation for offering some of the most quality furniture available. In 1956, John Harris left the company to pursue other business ventures, leaving Mary and Carroll to manage the company themselves. Because of limited capital, marketing campaigns were all word-of-mouth and depended on the satisfaction of the few customers that they had and by networking themselves through making visits to dealers all over Virginia. After Harris left the company, Carroll was left to travel the country and attempt to sell furniture out of the back of his vehicle, while Mary took charge of the plant in Winchester during his absence. The manufacturing department was in need of growth, however, and the current plant was not big enough to fit the Henkel's needs. So in the early 1960s, the Henkels began production of their own plant in Winchester, Virginia. By 1963, only a few days prior to Christmas, the Henkels moved into their newly completed factory.
In 1969, Carroll passed away suddenly, leaving Mary to run the company by herself. A woman managing a successful business in a totally male dominated industry was incredibly uncommon and posed a great challenge to Mary. Despite the adversity, Mary grew the company to 90 employees very quickly after the death of her husband. She also began traveling around the world, specifically to Europe. She used these trips as an opportunity to view European antique furniture so that she could innovate new Henkel Harris furniture based on the European design.
A prolific advocate of education, Mary also offered to pay tuition for her workers wishing take night classes. After paying for the education for many of her workers, she went on to donate thousands to Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Virginia . In an effort to inspire and educate her employees, Mary decided to rent six busses and take her workers on a paid trip to Williamsburg, Virginia to learn about American history and to view the style of furniture that was crafted at that time. This trip was such a success that Mary vowed to continue these trips. Twice a year for five years, she rented busses and travel to Williamsburg, Mount Vernon and Winterthur to educate her workers further.
By the early 1990s, the plant employed over 290 workers with a passion for creating what had become America's finest furniture. Generations of employees have worked at the plant, some for as long as 43 years. Mary had a passion for crafting furniture but had an even greater passion for her employees, who she saw as her own family. Mary later went on to enthusiastically describe her Henkel-Harris family as "A happy bunch of people". Mary continued her faithful work at Henkel Harris, even through blindness caused by macular degeneration, until she passed away on November 17th, 2001.
In 2013, the Gum family purchased Henkel Harris and is proud to be carrying on the tradition of producing America's finest furniture. With the same commitment to their workers and passion for crafting furniture, Gum Family has only one goal in mind: "to ensure that the legacy continues".
2983 South Pleasant Valley Rd
Winchester, VA 22603