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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Blacksmithing Important Trade In Early History Of County

Dallas Bogan on 18 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Part I

Many Warren County residents can well remember the trade of the blacksmith to one degree or another. Many had ancestors who practiced the profession, and through them they possibly picked up a point or two.
No trade holds a candle to the early business of blacksmithing in this country. Virtually every small pioneering settlement utilized this essential vocation, simply because it was the backbone of everyone's livelihood.
Blacksmithing is not only one of the oldest, but a fascinating craft, regardless of the age of the craftsman. This technique is still quite active, the modern smith having to constantly keep up with the new tools, new materials, and new processes.
(The word smith comes from the German word "schmied." The work of the blacksmith comes from the forge - black.)
The glow of the sweltering forge, the ringing thunder of hammer against anvil, the sizzle of heated iron or steel cooled suddenly in water, and the whinny and thump of the horses, all were familiar sights and sounds of the blacksmith's shop. Within these premises the smith shod horses along with making repairs to carriages, wagons, tools and machinery as needed.
School kids on the way home could peek through the open door that was darkened by smoke from the forge. The leather aproned smith would seem strange to these young observers at first as he thrust his tongs into the forge and pulled out pieces of chalky- looking glowing iron. They would witness him quickly turn to the anvil, place the pieces together, and hammer them hard to weld and to shape them.
The old smith shop was a community gathering place, where persons of all trades would assemble and solve the problems and politics of the day.
Perhaps this describes the early smith shop of "Ole Josie" Bursk in Mason. He had the reputation of keeping five fires going at one time during working hours.
Or maybe the smith shop of Henry Harner, Sr., fits this description. Harner was born in Maryland in 1776. He located in Ohio in 1806 and lived for a short time near Cincinnati. He moved to near Lebanon in 1807, where he acquired a small tract of eleven acres. Here he set up shop.
The late Jane F. Wales Nicholson, an early resident of the area of Harveysburg, recollected a segment of her past with respect to an early smith shop. She writes:
"I can recall many features for our new home which I greatly enjoyed as a child. My father worked on the land all day, sometimes in the evening would be busy in the blacksmith shop. I being small could just reach the great bellows. It was interesting to watch the iron grow red, and then see the sparks fly as it was struck on the anvil.
"My father made hinges and all the iron work needed for the new brick dwelling, which he soon prepared to build, except nails - these he bought at Cincinnati, and made the purchase by carrying down a load of bacon, which sold at two cents per pound. It took five days to make the journey then from Harveysburg to Cincinnati, two to go and two to return, leaving one for business there."
Most shops were rather large in order to hold the wagons, plows, and horses, along with the multitude of tools that the smith worked with. They were generally equipped with a workbench, a water tub, an anvil, a tool table, a forge, and a coal bin. Infiltrated into this rather odd-looking interior were horseshoe racks, as well as racks to hold the iron and steel rods and sheets used by the blacksmith. Everything had a purpose and all were utilized to make new items and to repair old ones.
In addition to the blacksmith there are many other similar metal-working trades such as the white smith, tin smith, copper smith, locksmith, silversmith, gun smith, gold smith, saw smith, wheel wright, ship smiths, and many others.
The white smith takes the work of the blacksmith and will file and finish it until the base metal shines brightly.
One specialist, who is in great demand today, is the friend of the horse, the farrier. This smith systematically knows the horses' physical arrangement, simply because of the technique of applying shoes. This field requires a highly skilled smith and is one of the few craftsmen who work with living things.
The farrier's anvil is special built to make animal shoes. It is lighter and has a longer horn or beak and most generally has a projection on the side of the body for special functions.
A blacksmith is the only craftsman that makes his own tools. There are quite a few modern-day lady blacksmiths who also fabricate their own tools. Whether early day or modern day smiths, all have the same intellect from which they implement their own tool making to suit their own needs.
Possibly the most recognized anvil today is called the London Pattern. It has a round horn on one end, a narrowing tail on the other, with two holes near the tail. The horn makes it possible to fabricate curved shapes, or to change the curve of an existing shape.
The square hole is called the "hardy" hole, its function being to insure a large mounting space. The smaller round hole is called the "pritchel" hole, which is used for punching holes for rivets.
The anvil top is made of steel and is specifically hardened. Its function is to provide a table on which most forging is done. This appliance is normally placed about 6 feet from the forge and rested on a block of wood that extended downward in to the soil about 2 feet below the floor surface.
Europe, in the late 1800's, displayed dozens of anvil shapes, and nearly every smith fancied a different design, reasoning being, perhaps, that each village had different needs.
Anvils come in numerous weights, ranging from a few pounds to nearly a thousand pounds. The old country anvil generally ranged from 125 to 500 pounds.
Most modern anvils are marked in kilograms or pounds. They have long lives if properly cared for. Many are still in uses that were fabricated more than a century ago.
A blacksmith's hammer is, beside the anvil, the most essential tools required. Being made by the individual smithy, the immense variety is remarkable. Old hammers are sometimes modified for individual jobs. Most generally it is cheaper and quicker to make a special hammer than to buy one. Meeting the smiths' specifications is a problem when purchasing a new one.
For nearly 500 years power hammers have been used. These oversized tools may be operated from water power, steam, compressed air, or electricity. Hydraulic presses have evolved for this purpose in the last 150 years.
Tongs are the widest in variety of all the tools made. Generally a different set is necessary for each size and shape of material. They are made to hold the materials from the side or the end, requirements being to hold the objects tightly. Tongs of all sizes grace the old blacksmith shops worldwide.
Most tongs could be held in one or two hands while some were so heavy that a crane or perhaps a number of men would suspend them.
The blacksmith, each having his or her own advantage, uses many materials. Brass, a combination of copper and zinc, or bronze, a combination of copper and tin, or perhaps aluminum or titanium, is all essential in the trade, along with the basic
metal, iron.


Part II

The writer spent the last 13 years at Armco (now AK Steel) , retiring in 1982, performing railroad car maintenance. I can well remember the many times that I was sent to the blacksmith shop to pick up different articles fabricated by the smiths.
This shop was a world unknown to the outside world. The huge furnaces were forever roaring, with a constant clanging of the enormous presses. Fabricated tools, many that I had no notion as to what they were, were stacked in piles, or stood up in quantities, waiting to be picked up by the different departments. Two top-notch employees in this department from Warren County were brothers Louie and Karl Snell, both deceased.
The writer, in a way, was well acquainted with the trade of the blacksmith. Our particular job required our own making and forming of different appliances for the railroad car, the heating/burning torch being our main tool.
Many times the railroad car would enter our shop in a deplorable condition. It was our role to perhaps reheat and repair the many areas and send them back on the job in a reconditioned state.
Last, but certainly not least, the forge was considered the major tool. Many materials and shapes made up this versatile apparatus. Africa today uses simple ground forges that utilize goat skin bellows as a forced air source. Today's modern forges are constructed from cast iron to steel or brick, with electric blowers generating the air force.
Forges are designed to get their wind, from which to fan the fire, from either the side or the bottom; each has its advantages; most American smiths use the bottom draft forge. The draft may come from the traditional bellows or from a hand-cranked blower, the latter replacing the former.
Many smiths prefer a low sulfur bituminous Pocahontas coal because of its flexible heating ability. Natural or propane gas is becoming more universal, especially for production work. Charcoal and coke have also been used at times.
Strength is the reason for forging pieces rather than casting or cutting them out of solid stock.
Iron was developed about 6,000 years ago in Europe. This amazing discovery soon spread both east and west. Early American iron was made from bog iron, this being so named because it was often found near the surface near bogs in the Eastern United States.
Iron-making from about 1700 to about 1890 basically used large amounts of charcoal. Scotland is absent its trees today because of its use of charcoal.
The Eastern section of the United States suffered much in this fashion. One estimate states that four square miles of forest were consumed each year for a furnace producing just fifteen tons of pig iron a week.
Wrought iron is a material no longer produced in the United States. Its consistency is almost pure iron with little carbon. It was produced in this country until after World War II, when it went into regression and was terminated. This material is still valuable to the smith, he invariably obtaining it from previous used sources.
The use of steel was first developed in the Orient and India. Steel starts with pig iron with iron ore added that has carbon, which makes it more consistent and harder. Mild steel has a low carbon content. Smiths, since the depletion of wrought iron, use this type steel because it worked at a lower temperature. It could be forge welded like wrought iron, however, because of the carbon content, with much more difficulty. Located inside the Warren County Museum is a replica of the Blue Ball blacksmith shop. On display are many handmade items, along with devices for fabricating them. Included is a large bellows with a fireplace depicting the same time period.
At this time I shall attempt to identify some early Warren County blacksmiths.
In Mt. Holly, Samuel Ellis built a one story house in 1823 for the purpose of a blacksmith shop. Other early blacksmiths succeeding him in the community were Everhart, Clingan, Weller, Caldwell, Hartsock and Doron.
William Greathouse's blacksmith shop was a victim of the Lebanon flood in July 1882. He suffered a loss of $100. Also from Lebanon, J.J. Taylor was listed, in 1828, as a local blacksmith and wagon and carriage ironer.
Next to the Carlisle Town Hall was a blacksmith shop, along with a saloon establishment.
The Furnas family came to the area of Waynesville from the Pine Creek Meeting, which was not far from the Bush River settlement in South Carolina. Robert Furnas was a man of many accomplishments. He was the village blacksmith, surveyor, physician, surgeon, and he drew up wills and contracts for which he never received any pay; he was also a clerk at the Friends meetings.
Four other early blacksmith shops from Waynesville are listed, the names being: T.B. McComas, on Miami Street; Levi Hartsock, upper end of Main Street; Mr. Crispen, at the foundry; and D. Eberly on the Public Square. I.V Fairholm occasionally did a little blacksmithing business at his shop on the east side of Main Street in the back.
As near as the writer can estimate, the time period of the following description is between 1850 and 1890. Utica had one store, one blacksmith shop, one pork house, one sawmill, one cabinet shop, one harness shop, one school, one saloon and one good writing school.
Lewis Kling, along with his son, owned and operated the local Utica blacksmith shop, the name of the establishment being, of course, "Kling & Son." Excellent and timely service was their mark with the community and surrounding areas.
Samuel Harris wrote in his history of Washington Township, that Nebo Gaunt was "an ingenious man, and could work as a millwright, carpenter, wagon maker, blacksmith, etc." Also, Oregonian James Van Horn had a blacksmith and auger factory.
The first dwelling in Maineville was a log structure that was erected by a blacksmith named Carr, using the building for his vocation. His prime work was that of making axes, for which he was well noted.
Daniel Stump operated a blacksmith shop in Harveysburg. Roachester had two blacksmiths in its early days, J. Phillips and S. Parker.
On August 11, 1806, a log blacksmith shop was built for David Mosely on Shaker land.
In 1834, John S. Denise is listed as owning a smith shop on the corner of River and Sixth St. in Franklin. Other smiths in town at different times were John Farrell, John Nolan, and D.G. Vail.
T. Gaddish is listed as a blacksmith on Main St. in Mason in 1857. Also, Daniel Quimby and D.W. Taylor were listed as early blacksmiths from Hamilton Twp.
Just two decades ago, blacksmithing was considered a vocation of the past. However, it is currently growing rapidly, and is again a quite active profession. Today, many farmers still have small forges of their own where they make repairs to their plows and farm machinery.
Pioneer Village has a blacksmith shop facility. May I suggest that if anyone is interested in this craft, or just interested in observing the process, they certainly should visit the facility during their festivities, and possibly get an understanding of the smith and his trade.

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This page created 18 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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