Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Country Blacksmith

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

The first blacksmith shop that I remember visiting was many years ago on a day trip with our family to Old Wade House historic site in Greenbush, Wisconsin. First there was a tour of the house, and then we got to go outside to the other buildings. That was much more interesting to me than the tour of the furnishings and the women doing rosemaling in the kitchen of the house.

Ted Sawle's Blacksmith Shop, Iowa County, Wisconsin

Years after that first visit to the blacksmith shop, Joann and I started our backroad explorations. One of our first spots to photograph was Hyde Mill in Iowa County, Wisconsin. On an old farm near the mill was a stone building next to the road and it was in bad shape. There was an old car, old farm equipment, and other farm junk piled around it, but we took photographs and wondered about what the building was. As we made periodic trips to the mill, we observed the old stone building deteriorating more with each passing year until on one trip, it was gone. Soon after that, we found out that it had been the Hyde Blacksmith Shop. We thought the pictures we had captured on film were all we would ever have of that building.

Hyde Blacksmith Shop, Iowa County, Wisconsin

Then a couple of years ago, an article appeared in the paper about the Hyde Blacksmith Shop and how it had been taken down stone by stone and rebuilt on a farm a short distance away. Now the blacksmith shop is open occasionally for visitors and demonstrations.

With the blacksmith trade having been largely eliminated by modern life, we are surprised by the number of blacksmith shops that can still be found. Many have been repurposed, but some stand as a testament to the old ways. We loved this red blacksmith shop we found one winter. The snow always makes the red of the buildings pop.

Hyde Blacksmith Shop, Green County, Wisconsin

I love the horse trough in front of this blacksmith shop we found in a historic town in Ohio. It is amazing when we find these buildings from such a long time ago largely or wholly intact.

Hyde Clifton Blacksmith Shop, Greene County, Ohio

From a historic listing, I had found an old stone hotel that we visited several times. The listing showed “hotel and blacksmith shop,” but for some reason it hadn’t dawned on me that there would be two separate buildings. Often buildings that have been around for over a century end up having been used for numerous purposes. In this case, the hotel building was now located on a farm and was being used by the farm family.

I took us past the old hotel again in 2008 and, as Joann was taking photos, it finally dawned on me that another building at the site might have been the blacksmith shop. Luckily, a young woman who lived on the farm was walking along the road and she stopped to chat. She told us some history about the hotel, and then Joann asked if the other building was the blacksmith shop. She confirmed that it had been a blacksmith shop and was originally located on the other side of the road.

Hyde Blacksmith Shop, Lafayette County, Wisconsin

In 2007, we visited northern Michigan, and at the tip of the Leelanau peninsula, is the restored logging village of Glen Haven. It includes a blacksmith shop, a general store, an old cannery, and an abandoned lifesaving station. We love it when we can find so much history to explore in one place.

Hyde Blacksmith Shop, Glen Haven Village Historic District, Leelanau County, Michigan

In 2006, on one of our barn hunting trips to Iowa, we were passing by a town where I had marked a blacksmith shop from a historic listing. Even though this wasn’t part of our agenda for the trip, we decided to stop. The shop wasn’t open, but we did get a couple of pictures and read the historic sign about the shop. It had been built by Matthew Edel in 1883. He manufactured, sharpened, and repaired items brought to him. He also did farrier (horseshoe) work and repaired wagons and wagon wheels.

Matthew Edel Blacksmith Shop (1883) and Auto Service Garage, Marshall County, Iowa

By the early 20th century, with the advent of the automobile, things were changing for the blacksmith, and with the decline in his business, Edel’s son attended automobile repair classes and they built a shop for him. By 1940, Matthew was in his 80’s and he closed his blacksmith shop permanently. He died shortly thereafter and his family left his shop exactly as he had left it when he closed it. In 1986, his family donated it to the state of Iowa.

Blacksmith Shop, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin

In our travels we also come across buildings that we suspect are blacksmith shops, but we sometimes can’t find anyone to tell us for sure. Occasionally we luck out, as we did one morning in October of 2007. We were photographing an old stone building when a gentleman pulled up and parked beside it. Joann struck up a conversation and found out that he was the owner and that it had been a blacksmith shop.

Old Blacksmith Shop, Shawano County, Wisconsin

If you’ve read our blog entitled “What Do You Suppose That Was?” from March 7, 2010, you know we had the same experience in Shawano County, Wisconsin. We found an old building and suspected it was a blacksmith shop, but didn’t see anyone around to ask. Sometimes we have this problem because it is too early on a weekend morning to knock on anyone’s door. Unlike us, most people don’t get up before dawn on the weekend.

Old Old Blacksmith Shop, Shawano County, Wisconsin

Friends at work are also helpful sometimes to find interesting buildings that we didn’t know about. One day I mentioned that we had been out photographing over the weekend, and as I described where we had been, a coworker asked if we had taken a picture of the blacksmith shop. We had not, since I didn’t know it existed. We had driven right by, and even though the entire town consisted of only a handful of streets, we had not driven into town. We soon made it a point to return and we found an operating blacksmith shop. That particular blacksmith shop is still operating today making decorative ironwork, and in fact the shop has had to expand with a large newer building next to the original blacksmith shop.

Postville Blacksmith Shop, 1856, Green County, Wisconsin

And just a couple of weeks ago, on a short trip to northern Minnesota, we came upon a newly built blacksmith shop. It’s nice to see an old trade continue to exist.

Burton Forge Blacksmith Shop, Lake County, Minnesota

Visit some historic sites and you can see a blacksmith at work, and he might even be dressed in period attire. And if you end up in a small town, check out the architecture and see if you can spot what might be an old blacksmith shop – and then tell us about it!

Until next time, Happy Shunpiking!

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