Photo courtesy of Idyllwild Area Historical Society

Between 1925 and 1960, Idyllwild became widely known as a center for the manufacture of craftsman-style furniture.

Hal Holcomb, “the Rustic Man,” started it around 1923 with his manzanita creations. When Holcomb moved away in the early 1930s, Ellis Griest and his Woodland Craft products came to the fore. But the master of the trade was Charles Selden Belden, originator of the Pinecraft line.

Belden was born in 1889 in Bridgeton, N.J. (coincidentally just seven miles down the road from my own first home in the South Jersey farmlands). His widowed mother had college ambitions for her five children, but Selden charted his own course. Dropping out of Oberlin, he headed west with a brother to homestead on the plains of Alberta.

Canadian farming did not go well for Selden, but he did meet and marry Coral Fowler. He also taught himself a good deal about building construction.

In 1922, the Beldens gave up farming and moved to Long Beach, Calif., where Selden opened a portrait studio. Finding that work too confining, he soon signed on with a relative as a traveling salesman for automotive maintenance equipment.

The turning point for the family was a 1933 Christmas-week stay at friends’ Pine Cove cabin. Seeing an opportunity to cut living costs with a total change of scene, they decided to move to Pine Cove.

With their Lynwood home rented out furnished, Selden immediately set about making a few pieces of pine furniture, as well as building the family a cabin.

Neighbors and friends admired his work and offered to buy pieces as fast as Selden could turn them out.

He also kept busy with cabin construction, until the prospect of an unusually stormy winter in 1937 led the family to return to Lynwood for several months. There they sold the house and that summer moved permanently to the Hill to launch the Pinecraft business as a full-time enterprise.

To gain greater exposure, the Beldens in 1939 bought property across Saunders Meadow Road from the Idyllwild School and built a workshop with upstairs living quarters. As the business prospered, Selden expanded his storage and manufacturing space. In 1951 the complex was rounded out with a new showroom on the corner of Highway 243 and Saunders Meadow Road.

After Selden died in 1952, his son Ted and widow Coral carried on the business, finally shutting it down in 1960. Coral lived until 1987 and was buried, fittingly, in a Pinecraft casket.

The corner showroom became Rowland’s Pinecraft Restaurant, while the pioneer TV art instructor and Idyllwild resident Jon Gnagy took over Belden’s original workshop building to house an art school and facility for producing his unique art kits.

The showroom has continued to house restaurants to this day. Most memorable was the Idyllwild Café, for many years a prime gathering place for local movers and shakers. Now it’s the Mile High Café, where you can view a collection of historic photos of the Pinecraft facilities.

To learn more about the Pinecraft history and technology from Ted Belden himself, plan to take in the ICRC lecture at Silver Pines Lodge at 6 p.m. Friday, March 15.

And if you’d like a chance to have your own bit of this legacy, the Idyllwild Area Historical Society is offering a set of four Pinecraft bar stools in its annual raffle. Tickets will go on sale at the lecture and throughout 2013 at the IAHS museum on North Circle Drive.