Preview Massachusetts Magazine
By Tom Vannah
Stove collector Richard Richardson fans the flames of his many passions in Goshen
When Richard Richardson recalls his arrival in the valley more than 30 years ago, his beaming gradually turns to a youthful, almost sheepish grin, as if he's trying to tell a perfect stranger about a great and lasting love affair. And that's exactly what he's doing.
"It was destiny. I was meant to be right here," Richardson says, spreading his arms wide to frame not only his showroom/museum of fully-restored antique stoves and his lovingly remodeled farmhouse and surrounding gardens, but the vast acres of state forest that abut his property in Goshen, Mass. A New Jersey native, Richardson describes his first visit to this spot in the early 1970s in a tone of incredulity: "I came up to do a crafts fair in Haydenville and I took a ride up here. When I drove by this property, I said to myself, if I could live anywhere, it would be right here. I knocked on the door and when the owner answered I said, 'Hi, I want to buy your property.' I didn't have any money, didn't know exactly how I was going to get the money, but the owner agreed to sell it. We struck that deal with only a handshake. Can you imagine that? Like I say, it was destiny."
Lofty as it sounds, destiny seems an apt way to explain the many dreams Richardson has realized in his life. A child of the 1960s, imbued with many liberal, back-to-the-land, artsy impulses, Richardson came to the Valley intent on living a passionate life, free from the demands of the workaday world. Whether it was a reaction against the kind of space age materialism of the day or a reflection of an artisan's sensibility that prizes the fine craftsmanship of an earlier time, Richardson became a collector of old, interesting objects and ephemera long before he came to Goshen. He created his now famous Good Time Stove Company - his web site today comes up at the very top of a Google search for "antique stoves" - not on the strength of a plan as much as by giving into his weakness for collecting what many people saw as junk.
"Somehow, before I could blink my eyes, I had eight old stoves," Richardson says. In 1973, on a trip to Springfield with his former wife to buy some more old stoves, he concluded the business transaction over a six-pack of beer. "On the way back to Goshen, my wife said, 'Boy, that was a good time,''' he recalls. Good Time Stove Company was born.
In the beginning, Richardson briefly sold new wood stoves and reproductions, but he quickly gave it up. "Boring, boring, boring," he says. "I hated selling new stoves." Today Richardson and his daughter, Sara Wenona, count on about 80 percent of their sales coming from outside the Valley, primarily by way of the Internet. In the early days, however, when he turned his back on the growing market for reproduction stoves, all of his business came from within the Valley. "Passions have always been more important to me that the almighty dollar," he says.
Richardson's passion for antique stoves is apparent from the minute you come across his place on Rt. 112 - a pretty country road that runs from Rte. 9 west of Williamsburg to Rte. 2 in Charlemont. A tin man made of stovepipe rises up in front of his showroom, surrounded by old stoves and stove parts, old bicycles, old tools and various other objets d'art that Richardson has picked up along the way. The hint of pack rat nearly disappears inside the showroom, which houses a great many of the 469 stoves he has on hand this particular day. The dates of his pieces range from 1790 to 1930 - not a reproduction among them - yet each piece shines as though it has just been manufactured. The sheer variety within the collection is stunning. Many run on wood, some on coal, some on both. There are cooking stoves and upright cylinder stoves and column stoves, potbelly stoves and parlor stoves, box stoves and Franklin fireplaces. Many are ornately decorated with nickel; others are plain-looking, utilitarian.
Richardson has converted a few of the cooking stoves to gas or electric.Prices range from about $2,800 to $12,500, but Richardson estimates the average price at somewhere between $3,800 and $4,800.
While Richardson has an encyclopedic knowledge of every stove in his collection, he is particularly partial to upright cylinder stoves, which, he says, "are like fine sports cars; they just respond like fine pieces of machinery."
In addition to the stoves themselves, Richardson has amassed what he believes is the largest library of literature and photographs chronicling the history of stoves and stove making in America. "It's easy to forget how important these stoves once were to people," he says. "In 1900, the stove industry was the fifth largest industry in the country, with about 2,000 stove manufacturers."
A visit to Good Time Stove isn't complete until a visitor has toured the gardens out back, where Richardson is pursuing another, more recent passion. He has turned the fields behind his home into a series of outside rooms delineated with intricate rock walls, often paved in local Goshen stone and showcasing a variety of art created from found objects. The centerpiece of his garden was under construction during a recent visit: an enormous wire and glass dragon, which will sit atop the chimney of a huge outdoor fireplace, smoke pouring from its mouth.
Richardson isn't sure what he will do with his gardens ultimately, but he conceives of them as spiritually healing places. As Richardson leads his visitor through his gardens, he returns to the subject of destiny, of the unseen force that brought him to Goshen more than 30 years ago. This place, he says, has given him nearly everything he cherishes. His daughters were born and raised here. This is where he established a business that has allowed him to remain profitably self-employed, free to make a living on his own terms. And it has instilled in him a deep sense of place, a reverence for the still unspoiled beauty of the Valley.
"I love what I do and I hope I'll do it for the rest of my life," he says with his sheepish grin. "And I love the Valley. I'm so in love with the Valley, I can't even tell you."