Four Generations Making Wonders from Wood

Central Vermont, home to Maple Landmark Woodcraft, has a long and proud history of crafting wooden products. Over two hundred years ago, most Vermont towns had several individuals who made functional items from wood. Since the 1870s, wood products have been one of the most important manufacturing industries in the state. Wood created an identity for many Vermont towns; in some, wood industries provided income for the majority of the population. Technology and products changed with the times to increase production and efficiency, meet market demand, and capitalize on popular trends and tastes. Owners of the mills and factories became community leaders who took responsibility for the commercial and civic growth of their town.

Mike Rainville, the founder of Maple Landmark Woodcraft, is proudly part of this continuing American tradition. Since the business began, customers have responded with enthusiasm to the cars and trucks; games including checkers, chess and dominos; train whistles; fairy wands; and scores of other finely crafted items and “Made by Me” construction kits that encourage kids to build creatively.

A Very Young Entrepreneur

When eleven-year-old Mike Rainville started making wooden items as a hobby, he had no idea that he would end up running a successful company that sells all manner of wooden toys and gifts to shops throughout the U.S. and abroad. Mike began his career in his parents’ basement, using scraps left over from his grandfather’s carpentry projects. At first, he built tic-tac-toe games, sewing machine spool holders, and cribbage sets. He displayed items at craft shows and county fairs around Lincoln, Vermont, where his family lived. As his business developed, young Mike needed to get his hands on more lumber — this involved borrowing a truck and someone to drive, as he wasn’t old enough!

Some years later, Mike went off to Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York and came home every single weekend to fulfill orders that had accumulated. After graduating, he built a new, much larger workshop for what had blossomed into a full-time business, and adopted the name Maple Landmark Woodcraft. The first hires were local teenagers on summer vacation; shortly thereafter, four full-time employees came onboard.

New Acquisitions and a Big Move

In 1987, Mike bought the Troll’s Toy Workshop, formerly located in nearby Barnet, Vermont. This addition brought in many products related to the alphabet, including letter cars, blocks, and signage letters. Soon after, in response to customer demand, the Name Train concept was spun off into a new line compatible with the many wooden train track systems on the market. Next, the trains were introduced in color, and sales soared.

Growth was extremely gratifying, but there was a downside: the company building was bursting at the seams. Although the mountain location was both beautiful and peaceful, it was impractical, so a decision was reached to move the business into the valley to Middlebury, Vermont, the county seat. A brand-new building was built that included a store so customers could drop in, watch items being made and buy them to take home.

In 2001, Montgomery Schoolhouse, another long-established Vermont producer of wooden toys, joined the Maple Landmark family with all operations consolidated at the Middlebury headquarters. Today, Maple Landmark employs about thirty-five people, seven of whom are family members. Four generations of the family, from Mike’s grandmother to his teenage sons, work together to produce award-winning toys and other products.

Family Values, Family Ties

Mike’s maternal grandparents, the Browns, have a long history in the area. In 1781, a relative of Harriet Brown, Mike’s grandmother, helped found the town of Lincoln, and the Brown family farmed in the area for almost two hundred years. Since giving up farming, they helped out in the various Maple Landmark businesses over the years. In fact, Grandpa Brown even came to work during a bout of chemotherapy whenever he felt up to it. A former school teacher, minister, water dowser, and published poet, Grandma Harriet Brown, now ninety-two, still comes to Middlebury from Lincoln every day to lend a hand with the thriving business.

Today’s Rainvilles and Browns have deep ties to their communities. Mike serves on the Lincoln and Middlebury Economic Boards and previously served on the Lincoln zoning and planning boards. His sister, Barbara, chairs the local Board of Selectmen, Vermont phraseology for “councilmen”; Mike and Barbara’s father was with the Fire Department for over thirty years.

Maple Landmark prides itself on making a wide range of toys and gifts with local materials and local workers. They follow American standards of product safety, employee safety, and environmental protection, and believe strongly in time-tested toys for hands-on learning and exploration. This adherence to quality has won the company numerous awards, including the coveted Dr. Toy Green Toy Award for wooden teethers, as well as awards from the Parents’ Choice Foundation, Creative Child magazine, Parent’s Guide and others.

Toy Favorites through the Years

All ABC block sets are made from 1-3/4” hardwood maple cubes and each is also available in a handy wooden storage box. Simple ABC Blocks are available as a set of 16 blocks with easy-to-read letters, a great beginner learner set. Jigsaw puzzles come in seven different scenes and have images applied with a color printer, making them highly scratch-resistant, even after hours of play.

Rock on with Rocker-feller, a beautifully crafted rocking horse sized for kids up to age 3. Rocker-feller won third place in its category in the 2010 Vermont Fine Furniture and Wood Products Design Competition and is made of responsibly harvested solid pine with a non-toxic finish.

Famed NameTrains can be personalized and are available in the original clear Finish; bright or pastel colors or as the TimberToots, wood block cars with the letters printed on them. There is also an extensive line of accessory cars, track, bridges, buildings, and trees to complete any little engineer’s world as well as a large variety of ever-popular games including chess sets, animal dominos, mancala, checkers, and Chinese checkers.

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