Back in 1883, J.J and Henry Hamley left their hometown in Minnesota to move to South Dakota where they planned to set up their first leather shop with little money. Little did the brothers know that this enterprise would lead to one of the most renown saddle-making businessess in the West.
After seven years of business, the two brothers moved themselves to Idaho. Four years later, Henry died unexpectedly as a young man.
J.J. and his son, Lester, carried on the leather shop until 1904 in Kendrick, Idaho before moving their business to Pendleton.
J.J. wanted to do something different in the saddle business, said Parley Pearce, one of the new owners of the Hamley's store in downtown Pendleton. He wanted to produce the best saddle that money could buy.
He began by researching saddle trees (the skeleton of a saddle). From there, he worked to build the best saddle on the market featuring Hamley's famous "never break" saddle tree.
"That saddle was guaranteed," said Pearce. The first Hamley's saddle hit the market in 1883.
When they first began producing their saddles, the trees were purchased out of Walla Walla, Wash.
When the tree factory closed in the early '20s, J.J. and Lester purchased much of the equipment used in the Walla Walla factory and began building their own saddle trees in their newly established tree factory in Pendleton.
"Those saddle trees made them famous," said Pearce. "They had innovative ideas in saddles that had good trees."
A famous saddle was later produced from Hamley's with the use of the Wade Tree. In 1935, a man named Tom Dorrance showed up at Hamley's with a saddle owned by the Wade family. Dorrance liked the saddle as much as the Wade family did, but changes needed to be made to the initial structure.
Hamley's took the saddle apart, worked with it and rebuilt the tree, calling it the Hamley-Wade Saddle.
Originally, the saddle was going to be named after Dorrance, but he insisted the saddle be named after the Wade family. This year is the 70th anniversary of the first Wade Saddle, and the doors at Hamley's have re-opened with the same great product and look as it did nearly 100 years ago.
n Everything new is old again ?
New owners Parley Pearce and Blair Woodfield of Walla Walla re-opened the historic store in fall 2005, after it had undergone a $2.5 million renovation with all three floors of the building receiving upgrades as well as the exterior.
It was Pearce and Woodfield's goal to restore Hamley's as it was when it first opened the authenticity of the design and decor were of the utmost importance.
"There are no modern fixtures or decor in Hamley's," said Pearce. "Everything we use inside is vintage."
From light fixtures to wall decorations, display cases to the floors everything matches the Old West.
Pearce, an antique collector, keeps his eyes open to items from the late 1800s.
To complete the authentic look, each floor received copper-plated ceilings.
"It's just like Hamley's early days," he said. "Quality, durability and integrity we feel like caretakers of the Hamley's store."
Vintage items and pieces from the Old West aren't the only things decorating walls old Hamley products cover them as well. Pearce and Woodfield are very interested in actual artifacts produced in the early years made by the Hamley company.
"I'm an enormous fan of Hamley artifacts like kit boxes, spurs, etc," said Pearce. "It was a fun project to track down old Hamley products to display in the store."
The first floor of Hamley's offers their customers a variety of clothing of many styles, leatherware gifts, jewelry, cowboy and cowgirl boots, hats, and of course, saddles and tack.
Featured in the main horse tack area is a bronze sculpture called "Attitude Adjustment," designed by Austin Barton, a national award-winning artist. The sculpture features a cowboy giving his horse an attitude adjustment. The monument size sculpture came from Main Street in Joseph.
The skylight in the ceiling allowed the sculpture to stand directly beneath it for a perfect fit.
"It's kind of our centerpiece," said Pearce.
Also featured on the main floor in the boot and hat corner is the "Rolling Thunder" sculpture of Chief Joseph, sculpted by David Manuel, an artist out of LaGrande.
"That sculpture is very significant to the local native residents," said Pearce. "When we re-opened in the fall, local natives attended the opening and prayed over the sculpture and the store."
Spectators working their way to the second floor immediately notice the hand-made wrought iron railing shaped like tree limbs.
The main floor on the second story is devoted to a western art gallery. Many of the featured artists are regional, with a number of local artists as well.
The large variety of artwork featured in the gallery includes pencil drawings, paintings and sculptures.
Pearce oversees the purchasing of all artwork to enter the gallery, he says.
"It's been a very good thing," he said. "Pendleton has not had a large art selection, so this helps."
The far corner of the second story is designated space for Hamley's administrative offices.
Originally, the third floor was a manufacturing location for leather products such as belts and kit boxes, and it employed as many as 60 people.
"Originally, we didn't know what to do with this room," said Pearce. "We also saw a need for a neat venue downtown in Pendleton."
With the help of friends and family, the third floor to Hamley's became the Slick Fork Saloon.
The room offers a western style for conference meetings, luncheons, receptions, parties and entertainment.
The Saloon features a professional sound system, large pull-down screen, hardwood floors, wooden tables and chairs, and a bar worth nearly $100,000.
The bar was purchased by Pearce and Woodfield prior to the re-opening of Hamley's last fall. It was rumored that they were looking for a saloon bar.
The bar they wound up purchasing was made in the 1800s and used in the old Thornton Hotel in Butte, Mont. It was also said that an Irishman used to own the bar until a biker carved his name in the bar and was shot by the angry bartender for having done so.
A third featured sculpture also resides Saloon. "The Cowboy" was designed by Buck McCain from Tucson, Ariz.
"It's one of my favorite sculptures," he said.
According to Pearce, all items featured on the statue resemble something that reminded the artist of his father and his father's lifestyle.
"(The Slick Fork Saloon) has become a very busy room," said Pearce.
The Oregon State Governors Conference will be held there later this year, as well as multiple concerts as part of a new music series sponsored by Hamley's.
"We are booked solid nearly every weekend," he said. "We're already booking on the weekends into 2007."
The exterior of Hamley's was also altered during the construction. The original Hamley's consisted of two buildings one of which was a one-floor building while the other was two. Later, the one-story building received a second story to allow for more room. In an effort to return the building to its original state, Pearce and Woodfield removed the added-on second story from the second building.
The stone that lined the outside of the building was also removed, returning it back to its original wooden structure. A front porch and awning was also added.
The building to the right of Hamley's was added to the store during the remodeling process.
Although the new building is currently being used as a shipping and receiving area, Pearce says that soon it will accommodate leather work including chaps, chinks, custom boots, saddles and suitcases.
A large part of what Hamley's is is their saddlery shop.
"We provide anything leather that a cowboy or cowgirl may need," said Pearce. Monte Beckman, who has worked for Hamley's for many years. With his help, Hamley's now has other excellent saddle makers on the team.
"We have really wonderful saddle makers," said Pearce. "It is our job to uphold great saddles and leather gear."
Hamley's also produces their own line of bits and spurs.
"We have quite a selection and we're going to broaden the selection even more," he said.
Former bronc rider from Red Bluff, Calif., Tye Skiver, is currently producing leather work for Hamley's from his hometown. When the third building of Hamley's is ready for production, Skiver is planning to move his family to Pendleton where he'll work out of his brand new leather shop.
"His carving is unmatched," said Pearce.
Not only is he Pearce's head chap maker, but he says that Skiver produces top-quality craftsmanship.
"We produce stuff that would pass the test of the most scrutinizing customer," he added.
n Everything old is new again ?
The 70th anniversary commemorative saddle is the most popular tree in America today, says Pearce.
According to Pearce, it's the heaviest, strongest tree upfront and is very comfortable.
The Wade Saddle was designed especially for buckaroos and roping, he says. The saddle brought the horn down lower and gives the horse better leverage for ropers with heavier livestock.
The Wade Anniversary Saddle will be presented this year at the Pendleton Round-Up as the Big Four Saddle. This saddle is awarded to the high point all-around cowboy from a combination of the Ellensburg, Walla Walla, Lewiston and Pendleton rodeos.
"We are very proud that this saddle was created here at Hamley's," said Pearce. "We are constantly working on new concepts and ideas."
Pearce says the old Hamley's philosophy is to make the best saddle money can buy, still holds true today.
"It's what made Hamley's famous it's what they (people) remember," he said.
For more information about Hamley's or Hamley's product line, visit their website at www.hamley.com or call 1-877-3-Hamley.