The trip to Fulton NY was a homecoming although perhaps not in the normal definition. Homecoming generally means one is returning to their home or perhaps to their school for the annual homecoming game. This trip was the Hunter Arms LC Smith Collectors Association Homecoming. While I’ve never been to Fulton the vintage LC Smith shotguns, properly stored for transportation, were returning to their home. Hunter Arms operated in Fulton NY making several brands and models of what are now considered classic American shotguns. I was taking the guns referred to as “My sweet Elsie” back to their place of creation.
The history of the LC Smith shotguns is a long and winding trail. L.C. Smith shotguns were manufactured over a period of nearly seventy year by at least four companies. Changes of ownership, model designations and even the re-use of serial numbers have resulted in confusing information. Much of the original information available was from two books Lt. Col. William S. Brophy (USAR ret).
The first LC Smith Shotguns. The book dedication reads, “This book is dedicated to the many sportsmen and collectors who appreciate fine double-barrel shotguns and, in particular, the L. C. Smith shotgun, a “thing of beauty and a joy forever”.” The second book is the Plans and Specification Of The L. C. Smith Shotgun. Others have pieced together some of the history of the LC Smith shotguns including Rich Beyer who wrote The Hunter Arms Co. and the L.C. Smith Gun.
The formation of the LC Smith Collectors Association in 2003 lead to a renewed interest and efforts to preserve the history. Much research has been done by many dedicated collectors through the association. The result is a large volume of data has been better assembled and additional information gathered.
The recent book, L. C. Smith “The Legend Lives” by the late John Houchins, is the most definitive collection of information of the shotguns. Added to that is the production records assembled by James Stubbendieck, along with various members of the association and the Parker Gun Collectors Association. That book is “L. C. Smith Production Records – The Numbers Behind the Legend”.
A quick look into the history of the LC Smith Shotgun we learn that W.H. Baker had patents on a three-barreled shotgun called a drilling. Lyman Cornelius and brother Leroy Smith joined Baker to manufacture the shotgun in 1877. About 1880 both Baker and Leroy Smith sold their interests to L.C. Smith who continued to manufacture the guns until 1888 when he sold the company to the Hunter Brothers. Smith sold the company to pursue other business interests in developing a typewriter.
John Hunter Sr plus his six sons (Thomas, James, William, John Jr., Robert and Samuel) formed the Hunter Arms Company and moved it to a renovated factory in Fulton NY. They introduced new models and improved designs. Unfortunately other business interests by the Hunters were over-extended and ended with bankruptcy for Hunter Arms Company. Local Fulton investors purchased the company in 1917 but it was soon sold again in 1920 although the facilities remained in Fulton.
Declining production during Wordl War II, along with a failed military contract, again forced the company into bankruptcy in April 945. The Marlin Firearms Company purchased Hunter Arms in October 1945 forming the LC Smith Gun Company. Production was increased and it appeared the LC Smith guns would be popular. However in 1949 a good portion of the factory first floor collapsed into the water raceway under the factory. Much equipment was lost and Marlin decided to move operations to New Haven Connecticut. Production of the guns was stopped in 1950. Marlin Firearms briefly reintroduced the LC Smith line in 1968 through 1971. I remember seeing some of these guns on the rack at the Famous Sporting Goods store in downtown Xenia.
The Hunter Arms Homecoming Weekend, which is hosted by the Friends of History in Fulton NY, is a celebration of the LC Smith shotguns in the city where they were produced from 1890 to 1945. The American shotguns of this period are considered to be classic side-by-side shotguns. Certainly the lines and the grace of these guns matches anything from this golden age of manufacturing. The hand-fitting with real engraving rather than machine stamping and sleek lines make the guns a pleasure to behold and even better to shoot.
It was fitting that the homecoming not only featured a wide variety of LC Smith gun at the Pratt House Museum in Fulton but also a couple of days of shooting at the nearby Pathfinder Fish and Game Club. Friday was dedicated to setting up the museum displays and friendly rounds of practice. A fine gathering of friends celebrated the evening with dining at a local restaurant. Saturday was devoted to the competition in trap, skeet and sporting clays. Several of the ladies who attended opted to hit the road for some antique, flea market and garage sale fun. The homecoming concluded with an awards dinner.
We were all brought to Fulton based on admiration and love for the LC Smith shotgun. Several descendants of the original founding Hunter Brothers attended both the shooting competition and the banquet on Saturday. What a delight to meet with the family that is largely responsible for the continued manufacturing and perfection of these shotguns. The family all expressed continued support for both the LC Smith Collectors Association and the Homecoming Weekend. It is a great tribute to what their family helped to create that we could all celebrate.
While I didn’t win any of the shooting competitions, I did meet a lot of new friends and reconnect with others. The LC Smith guns were shot and performed just as well as they did when new. A grand time was had by all. For more information see the L.C. Smith Collectors Association: http://www.lcsmith.org/.