Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 6                                        July/August  2005

     From the Editor
         The Issue at Hand


Stairways to Heaven

This issue of SHELTER is full of firsts. First, we are previewing the AWFS fair in Las Vegas (see page 50). If you want to see the latest in machinery for the wood industry, you won’t want to miss this show.

This is also the first time SHELTER has featured the Stairway Manufacturers’ Association (SMA), and its special section can be found on page 19. To find out more about this association, read the column on page 20.

SHELTER also features one of SMA’s member companies—StairVision. See on page 38 how this computer software could change the entire millwork distribution industry.

There’s no doubt that there are some beautiful staircases in homes and buildings around the world. One staircase that my mother-in-law Carol brought to my attention is not only beautiful but it also has a great story to go with it.

The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, N.M., has quite a mystery surrounding it. 

When the chapel was built, there was no way to access the 22-foot-high choir loft.

Carpenters were asked to help, but they said that the choir loft would have to be accessed by a ladder instead of a staircase because there just wasn’t enough room to build one.

To help find a solution, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Legend says on the ninth and final day of prayer that a man showed up at the chapel with a donkey and toolbox looking for work. 

According to the story, the circular staircase was completed months later and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man, even running an ad in the local newspaper but finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself.

According to the chapel’s website the carpenter built a magnificent structure, and the design was innovative for its time. 

The staircase has two 360-degree turns and has no visible means of support. Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails—only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers compared to the height of the choir loft and the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway’s construction. 

For those of you in the millwork industry who have been to the Loretto Chapel, SHELTER readers would like to hear what you have to say about this mysterious staircase. Perhaps you know of a staircase that is truly innovative or beautiful. Please send in pictures.


Samantha Carpenter, editor
SHELTER magazine

P.S.  For more information on the Loretto Chapel, visit

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