Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
The Village Blacksmith
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Under a spreading chestnut-tree the village smithy stands; the smith, a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands; and the muscles of his brawny arms are strong as iron bands.”
A blacksmith makes objects from iron or steel by forging the metal, which has been heated until it glows red, orange or yellow. Carefully, with the sound of iron hitting iron and with sparks flying in all directions, the soft, glowing masses can be twisted, bent, cut, hammered and shaped with the use of various tools.
The blacksmith or smithy, was as much a part of pioneer village life as the horse. The forger of metal might produce wrought iron gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures, furniture, tools, agriculture implements, religious items, cooking utensils and weapons, but it was the making of horse shoes that brought about the special need of at least one blacksmith in virtually every community. A blacksmith often went hand and hand with the livery stable--a place where traveler’s animals were rested, watered, fed and sometimes had their feet re-shod.
Keosauqua’s first blacksmith shop was opened by David Smith in 1838. Ralph Barker may have been the last blacksmith to operate as such in the town of Keosauqua. However, Barker Equipment Company on Franklin Street employed several expert metal forgers, who used their skills in the assembly of products and the repair of factory machinery.
In 1846, Iowa became a state. In that year, a business directory of the new state’s most important towns, shows that in Burlington the blacksmiths were Thomas McCrary, a Mr. King, C. H. Hawkins, Peter Funk, William Vernon and James Golden. Hinkle & McCrary had Keosauqua’s primary blacksmith shop, with Richard Benjamin also listed as a Keosauqua smith.
“His hair is crisp, and black, and long, his face is like the tan; his brow is wet with honest sweat, he earns whate’er he can, and looks the whole world in the face, for he owes not any man,” continued Longfellow. Inspired by the poem, a movie was made in 1931 called The Village Smithy.
Not only can you still see live demonstrations of blacksmith work in Van Buren County, you can learn how to forge metal from the pros! Bill Printy and Mark Heisdorffer are teaching this craft at the Village Folk School.
Printy has been forging metal at Iron and Lace in Bentonsport for over twenty years, and Mark learned the craft under Bill’s direction. They bring back part of the forgotten sights and sounds of yesterday.
“Week in, week out, from morn till night, you can hear his bellows blow; you can hear him swing his heavy sledge, with measured beat and slow, like a sexton ringing the village bell, when the evening sun is low.”
(poem is a portion of The Village Smithy written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1841)
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick