Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area
No Spreading Chestnut Tree/ Kennewick’s First Smithy
By BURTON 0. LUM
Sunday, 16 July 1961, page 5
Kennewick’s first village smithy did not stand under a “spreading chestnut tree.” It was under a crude sunshade. The sunshade was constructed from old 10 inch x 10 inch x 20 feet used railroad-bridge ties which were set 18 feet apart to form a square. Planks 2 inch x 12 inch were spiked to the tops of these four posts. A thatched roof was constructed to make a shade. Beneath this shade was erected the forge and bellows. Back of the forge was a tool rack. In front of the forge was the anvil. Nearby was a sawed-off whiskey barrel filled with water used for tempeering steel. It was also sprinkled on the ground to settle the dust and put out the sparks. Sloshing in this barrel was a long wooden handled dipper sprinkler, the bowl of which was made from a perforated tomato can. Near the forge were several gunny sacks of blacksmith or hard coal.
Because of its cost, the smith was careful in its use. Lying on the forge were several cigar boxes containing alum, borax and welding powder. Around the anvil’s wooden block were arranged the hardy, the diamond peen hammer and the ball peen hammer.
Standing close by were an eight pound maul and a 16 pound striking hammer. Many tongs of different designs were racked around the anvil block. A farrier’s set containing horseshoe nails, a farrier’s hammer and nail set was near the forge. Horseshoe blanks hung on railroad spikes driven in the four 10 by 10 posts. A wooden clamp to hold saws for filing leaned against a corner post. A grind stone that could be turned by pedals or hand cranked was near the tire shrinker a contraption used to set metal tires on wooden wagon wheels.
This sun shade was located on the salt grass flat near Lum’s ranch house and Beach’s well. This smith was not “a mighty man”. He was only five feet 8 inches tall and weighed a scant 155 pounds. His hair was not “crisp and black and long.” It was red. A barber could have cut every hair on his head without taking his hat off. When he wiped the “honest sweat” from his brow, his bald pate glistened in the sun like an ice cream cone.
Who was this first village blacksmith of Kennewick? He was Newton J. Potter from Texas. He would tell you in his Texas drall that he was “Newt Pater from Takeses.”
He had a farm about three and a half miles west of Kennewick under the Kennewick Ditch. It was a nice piece of property and sloped toward the Columbia.
Potter was happily married. His wife Francis was a pretty Southern Bell. They had three children. Franklin, the oldest, and two younger daughters, Nora and Maude. Potter was like all the other pioneers of these early days. He had spent most of his capital in securing his farm and improving it. Until his farm became producing it was necessary for him to find some source of revenue to tide himself over. Captain Lum helped to get his smithy started. Potter was an exceptional craftsman. There was a demand for his services. His wife, with the aid of the children, kept the crops irrigated and cultivated on their farm. Potter sharpened plows, made clevises, shod horses, filed saws, made spreader chains, set wagon tires, and numerous other repair jobs. His sunny disposition and sincere desire to please his customers brought results. Everyone like him. If anyone made a suggestion about doing anything in a certain manner, he was always quick with his ever happy remark “by jing it mount be.” His trade grew rapidly. He needed someone to help him. Father donated my services.
I was a gangling youngster just under 6 feet, as strong as an ox, and every bit as clumsy. I am sure at the start I was more a hinderance than a help. Due to Potter’s good nature and sincere desire to succeed, he taught me how to use the striking hammers, to pump the bellows and to judge the heat of the metals by their color. He taught me how to weld, to sharpen saws, set wagon tires and most of the things that a blacksmith should know.
In my entire association with him he never spoke a cross word to me.
Longfellow’s Village Blacksmith has been revered for generations, but I will ever take “by jing it mount be” Potter as the finest character of any blacksmith of all time.Return to Index of Burton Lum Articles