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Annette and Sherman Craig retired to the Adirondacks, volunteering and forming a woodworking business. Photo: Brian Mann
Annette and Sherman Craig retired to the Adirondacks, volunteering and forming a woodworking business. Photo: Brian Mann

Woodworking and activism in the shadow of a shuttered mill

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This summer, North Country Public Radio has been reporting on the final closure of the paper mill in Newton Falls. A Canadian firm has auctioned off the mill's equipment and is looking for a buyer for the land and buildings.

It's an old story in our region, as factories, mines, and mills have closed or moved overseas. One big question for places like southern St. Lawrence County is - what next? What will the next economy look like?

This morning, Brian Mann profiles Sherman and Annette Craig, owners of Wanakena Woodworks.

They're artisan furniture makers and community activists who hope that their kind of investment can help revitalize struggling corners of the Park.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

It’s a gorgeous summer day when Sherman and Annette meet me at their shop in Newton Falls.  They live nearby in Wanakena, but after they retired and were looking for a place to make furniture, they found this old church.

The mothballed paper mill sits just down the hill near the river.  In 2005, Sherman and Annette had retired from careers in education.  They’d spent some years building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

Their shop revitalized an abandoned Roman Catholic church in Newton Falls.  Photo: Brian Mann
Their shop revitalized an abandoned Roman Catholic church in Newton Falls. Photo: Brian Mann
Making finely crafted furniture was their next big adventure.

The shop is filled with shapes of wood in all states of transformation – some recently harvested, some being dried, some near completion as desks or cabinets.

Annette Craig says she learned her part of the craft on the job – and working as a house-builder for Habitat.

One of the questions that faces the Adirondacks is whether businesses like this one can pick up the slack as the region continues to lose some of its big mills and big industrial companies. 

Sherman and Annette say this kind of artisan work would be a hard life if it was your only source of income.

But Sherman Craig, who serves as a Park Agency commissioner, is convinced that this part of the Adirondacks is ripe for rediscovery. 

Unlike some other parts of the Park, the cost of living is low and with new technology like broadband, he says there’s real opportunity.

Can cottage industries like Wanakena Woodworks help take the place of big industries that are vanishing in the North Country?  Photo: Brian Mann
Can cottage industries like Wanakena Woodworks help take the place of big industries that are vanishing in the North Country? Photo: Brian Mann
The Craigs are also realistic.  They say this part of southern St. Lawrence County is struggling and needs and infusion of people and investment and volunteers.

So that’s a big question for parts of the North Country that are still transitioning from an old industrial economy to an economy based more on tourism, on craft work, and on second homeowners retiring to the region. 

Can people like the Craigs serve as a new kind of economic engine, one piece of furniture and one volunteer effort at  a time?

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