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100 Years Strong

C.H. Burkdorf & Son celebrates century in business

October 25, 2009
By ZACH SUBAR, The Leader-Herald

ST. JOHNSVILLE - Diane Burkdorf-Littrell was a law clerk in Canajoharie from 1971 through 1976, while her husband ran their family business, C.H. Burkdorf & Son.

But in 1976, the company expanded, building a second structure to allow for more room to operate. Since her husband, Richard Burkdorf, could not be in two places at once, she left her clerk job and went to work for the family business, which was then being led by its third generation.

"I didn't even know what a two-by-four was before I got here," Burkdorf-Littrell said.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Diane Burkdorf-Littrell, owner of C.H. Burkdorf & Son Lumber Co. in St. Johnsville, stirs paint for a customer at the store Tuesday.

Now, Burkdorf-Littrell runs the business with her two sons, Paul and Randy, the fourth generation to be involved in its operation. After Richard died in 1991, he left the company to them, and it continues today, 100 years after it first began as a St. Johnsville saw mill.

The company celebrated its 100th anniversary with an open house Oct. 9 and 10, complete with a ribbon cutting and a buffet. Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and town officials feasted on the food, which was prepared by family members, and ate ice cream and cake to finish the celebration.

"We feel it's quite an accomplishment," Burkdorf-Littrell said of being in business for a century. "We're very proud of that. We're very happy, and if it weren't for the support of our customers, it wouldn't be happening."

Clark H. Burkdorf bought the saw mill in 1909 and allowed his son, Clark P. Burkdorf, to help him run the business until his son died at age 41. He then passed the business on to Richard Burkdorf, who then gave it to his wife and two children.

"If it weren't for [my sons], this business wouldn't be here, because I wouldn't be able to run it myself," Burkdorf-Littrell said.

The company sells home building materials, such as concrete blocks, cement, roofing insulation and lumber-"anything you would put in a house," Burkdorf-Littrell said.

In 1909, the company purchased wood lots for its timber, and Clark H. Burkdorf sawed them by hand. Now, the company receives its lumber from far-off Canadian and U.S. mills.

That does not mean the company has lost touch with its roots. To Burkdorf-Littrell, St. Johnsville is home.

"I was born and raised here, and I can see all the little small communities are in a depressed area, and we hope to keep building them up and building them up," she said.

After the 2006 countywide flood, the company's facilities were damaged, like those of

many other Montgomery County businesses. It was left with 3 feet of water, and Burkdorf-Littrell said it took C.H. Burkdorf about three weeks to clean up until it was able to open again.

Even now, the company is still restocking materials it lost in 2006 and after being flooded again by a storm this spring.

"If it hadn't been for our friends, our neighbors, our relatives, I don't know what we would have done," Burkdorf-Littrell said.

The business has many customers and friends to draw from. The company sells to contractors, carpenters and what Burkdorf-Littrell calls "do-it-yourselfers" within a 50-mile radius, so they do business with a lot of groups.

She said a lot of people have been coming into the business to ask whether they are eligible for a recent $1,500 energy credit they can receive on their 2009 income tax returns.

One of those customers is Ephratah Supervisor Todd Bradt, who owns Bradt Builders, a contracting business.

Bradt, who has been buying from the company for 20 years, says he appreciates its high-quality service.

"They're local," he said. "They're like a mom and pop."

He said he also likes the goods the company sells.

"They deal with a quality material too-most of the time, if you're looking for pine, they've got a better grade," Bradt said. "Sometimes you'll pay a little bit more, but it's a better product. The service is much better than at other places."

The company began with just one building before constructing its second warehouse in 1976 and building a third structure in the 1990s.

Because of all its space, Burkdorf-Littrell said, the company can guarantee it will be giving dry materials to its clients.

"People know that we have quality building materials, and I believe we have good prices on them," Burkdorf-Littrell said. "There's no sense in building a home and doing any work if you're going to put shabby materials in it."

Zach Subar can be reached at



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