150 years of baskets in Berlin Heights

BERLIN HEIGHTS The history of The Berlin Fruit Box
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

BERLIN HEIGHTS

The history of The Berlin Fruit Box Company is as unique as the baskets it produces.

This year, the company marked 150 years in business with a celebration this past weekend and a schedule of open houses for the first two weeks of December.

Founded by Samuel Patterson in 1858 -- before the presidency of Abraham Lincoln -- the basket weaving company started as a way to provide local fruits and vegetable growers with sturdy containers to carry their wares. As times changed, so did the means of transporting goods, with refrigerator trucks and pliable cardboard boxes.

We began making floral baskets, home baskets, tissue boxes, laundry hampers, musical baskets -- everything you can think of, president Matt Adelman said. The business changed with time to appeal to people "looking for gifts that are meant to last forever." he said.

Adelman, great-great-great grandson of Patterson, chatted politely with customers and old friends who visited the factory. He told them of two fires in 1900 and 1901, and when the building was completely lost to flames in 1968. He also talked about the company's status as the oldest basket-making business in Ohio and the second oldest in the nation.

"We've had are share of mishaps," he said.

"But we've always been in the exact same location, doing the same thing we've done since 1858 and more."

Those in attendance participated in tours, including a log veneering demonstration, wove their own home baskets, marveled the "The Music Box Basket," and sampled refreshments. Children were invited to get creative with ribbons, pipe cleaners and glitter by decorating their own free, farm baskets.

The Music Box Basket is featured as the company's 2008 Christmas Basket. It's the first basket woven from walnut and has a reversible lid with Christmas art by Thomas Kinkade on one side, and two mechanical music box tunes.

"By turning over the lid and switching the music, you don't have to put the basket away with all of the other Christmas decorations," Adelman said.

Martha Merriweather, Norwalk, admired the Mother's Day 2008 basket, with a rose laser-engraved on the lid.

"The baskets are so carefully put together," she said. "You can tell by glance whether something's good quality or not. I'm thoroughly impressed with what I've seen."

Adelman and his crew explained how fresh logs, brought from no farther away than 25 miles, are boiled and peeled into paper-thin sheets on a lathe. Up to 100 sheets can be stacked and cut into various-sized strips, ready to be woven. After going through a drying process, the strips are stamped with the company's logo and Patterson's signature--taken from his actual signature on a 1885 stock certificate -- woven, and stained in either walnut, hard maple or American black cherry. All the wood brought into the factory is used, whether for baskets or burned for steam.

Adelman said he can't pinpoint a specific moment that contributes to the company's success.

"To us, everyday is pretty special because we've had the opportunity to be around for so long," he said. "We're honored and very proud of what we do here. No matter what we're doing, we drop everything to take people on tours and show them what we do."

WANT TO GO?

What: The Berlin Fruit Box Company open house

Where: 51 Mechanic Street, Berlin Heights

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday-Sunday and Dec. 13-14

Cost: Free admission and children's crafts