RED ASBRIDGE IS SKILLED CRAFTSMAN
By Martha DeClue
The Lead Belt News, Flat River, Missouri, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 1964
Hedgemon Asbridge of East Bonne Terre was just a little boy with a shock of auburn hair when he became known as "Red." He is now over 81 years old and most of the hair is gone -- but the name has stuck. Red Asbridge is a skilled craftsman, widely known for his ability to build, repair and restore antique furniture.
Although Mr. Asbridge has always been adept at manual tasks, it was by chance rather than deliberate choice that he first became known as a talented craftsman. It was the winter of 1928 and Christmas prospects at the Asbridge home were not very bright. After working for 26 years for the St. Joseph Lead Company, Red had suffered a back injury which forced his early retirement. His pension was considerable less than it now is and providing holidays gifts for the daughter and two sons presented a real problem. It was Mrs. Asbridge's suggestion that Red use some native wood on hand and make a cedar chest for their daughter. With little more than a hand saw, hammer and nails the cedar was made into a chest. The finished product was a nice piece of furniture and Red than made two more cedar chests, for his daughters-in-law. The workmanship was seen and admired by others and it was not long before Red's talents became recognized. Various jobs came his way and, as he was financially able, he bought new equipment which enabled him to turn out more work.
In subsequent years Red purchased power machinery and other tools of the trade, and converted a barn at the rear of his property into a well-equipped workshop. As time went on he also became more knowledgeable about period trends in furniture and more adept at recognizing and restoring fine old pieces. Slowed down now by advanced age and the old back trouble, Red doesn't put out as much work as he formerly did. We noticed, however, as Red showed us an intricately designed walnut drawer pull that the fingers of his strong hands are still supple.
Mr. Asbridge also became proficient in related skills as he worked in woods. One such skill was his mastery of the art of weaving cane, hickory and heavy cord. On the occasion of our visit to the Asbridge home we saw some antique chairs with seats and backs woven in lovely designs of wilthe and cord, with surfaces as firm as wood.
Also to be seen in the home located near the East Bonne Terre Baptist Church are many furnishings of the type cherished by collectors. Most of them are pieces which Red has salvaged or accepted as payment on other work, and has re-built and restored to their original beauty. In the master bedroom is a beautiful bed, believed to be well over 100 years old. Other pieces of similar period include dressers and chests, all of which have been reclaimed from oblivion by the craftsman and his wife. An antique bedside table was reequipped with legs made from walnut which Red bought many years ago from the man who razed the log building which was the first courthouse in St. Francois County.
Hedgemon was one of the ten children of Silas and Ellen Asbridge and was born June 10, 1883, in Ste. Genevieve County. The family moved to St. Francois County when Red was a youngster and settled in East Bonne Terre, more commonly known then as Elvins Town. It was so called for Politte Elvins, settler and majority land owner. In remembering the earlier years in East Bonne Terre, Mr. and Mrs. Asbridge recalled that one of the leading citizens was George Mahn (father of Mrs. Linn Benham and Miss Kate Mahn of Bonne Terre), who had moved to East Bonne Terre and built one of the nicer homes after his grist mill on Hazel Run had been destroyed by fire. The community also had the only St. Joe hospital facility, several stores, hotel and livery stable. Dr. A. L. Evans also maintained an office there and made daily trips on horseback to see patients of the vicinity.
Mrs. Asbridge, the former Berdie Keys and a native of Franklin County, Mo., is eight years younger than her husband. She met Red when she came to visit relatives in East Bonne Terre. They have three children of their own and also reared from infancy Nellie Keys, a niece of Mrs. Asbridge. Now added to the family roster are their children's spouses and five grandchildren. One son, Oran, lives in Ironton and is employed by Union Electric at the Taum Sauk installation; another son, Stanley, is a welder in Norwalk, Calif.; and the daughter, Mrs. Sherman (Kathryn) Cravens, lives in Brighton, Ill.
Mr. and Mrs. Asbridge have made two trips to the west coast but for the most part they can be found at their comfortable home. There is a great deal to keep them there for the Asbridge place is not unlike a small farm. They like to eat well and much of their table fare is home-grown. Produce from a well-tended garden is canned or put in the deep freeze. At the back of the lot two pigs and a calf were being fattened, to be butchered in the fall for the year's meat supply. Most of the meat is commercially slaughtered and packaged but the Asbridges continue to cure their own hams.
Red has another sideline -- he raises and sells fishing worms. He has been in this business since 1956 when he started his collection with 100 Red Wigglers. The worms grow and multiply in concrete beds lined with gravel and covered with dirt enriched with compost.
Mrs. Asbridge shares her husband's flair for creative work and is herself an accomplished finisher. They also share interests in current affairs and are inclined to view with some pessimism the future of their children and grandchildren in a society which they feel exercises too much control over individual liberties.
In these days of one-operation experts, it is refreshing to discover those who can do many things and do them well. Equally delightful is the experience of watching a true artisan at work. With his talent for creating beautiful things, there is every reason to believe that Red Asbridge would have become the craftsman he is today despite the adversities which changed him from a miner to a wood worker. Some where, somehow there would have been that first cedar chest!
by Alice Kelly. More photos of their family can be found by clicking HERE.
Asbridge's first name spelled as Birdie.