The history of the blacksmith


No doubt many will recall the opening lines of Longfellow’s poem The Village Blacksmith.

“Under the 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 …”

When Greene County was new, one of the first and most welcome artisans in a community was a blacksmith. Not only was the blacksmith handy for shoeing the horses, but he was indispensable for making a large variety of necessary equipment for the farmers and other tradesmen.

Working over a hot forge, day after day, pounding the metal into the desired shapes took a great deal of strength and energy on the part of the individual who called himself a blacksmith.

The fire had to be exceedingly hot, and he needed to have a variety of materials on hand to produce the necessary equipment.

If you needed an axe, certainly the blacksmith could make one for you or if you needed a wheel for your wagon, that was the place to go.

Shovels, hoes, rakes and other pieces of farm equipment were made to order by the local blacksmith.

An advertisement in the newspaper dated April 19, 1926 provided the following announcement: “SMITHING – The subscriber takes this manner of informing his friends and customers that he has started another fire in his shop, where he is prepared to execute all calls to his line of business in due time and season. It shall attend to the manufacture of edge tools of every description and will warrant them to stand. Russell Rice. N. B. An apprentice to the above business will be taken. A boy of about 15 or 16 years of age, who can come well recommended will meet with good terms.”

Being a blacksmith required quite a rigorous amount of training. A young man of 15 of 16 would most likely be strong enough to learn the trade, and in time, given the right circumstances would be able to secure more work when the apprentice time had passed.

In 1914, The Xenia Republican advertised the company of Spahr and St. John. At that time the office and shop were located on South Whiteman Street. The company advertised carriage repairing, painting and horseshoeing all of which were executed in a workmanlike manner.

The firm boasted of a number of different abilities including that special attention would be given to the putting on of new tops for buggies and autos, as well as new rubber tires on vehicles of all kinds.

Howard S. Spahr had operated the business at that location for some time before taking J. E. St. John into partnership.

The promotional advertisement stated that the repair shops were thoroughly equipped with all the necessary mechanical equipment necessary for each job. Mr. St. John was listed as one of the most experienced and capable horseshoers in the area, having made a study of the anatomy of the horse. He would be able to scientifically shoe the most valuable thoroughbreds “so as to prevent interference or any other ailments with which they may be afflicted.”

Mr. Spahr was well known as an expert in carriage repair and painting.

In addition, the firm could provide a number of modern cars with chauffeurs for reasonable charges.

Another popular firm in Xenia was the Lutz Blacksmith shop located in the 400 block of West Main Street. John Lutz established his business in 1856 at the corner of Church and King Streets. He bought a small house at the West Main Street location which he removed and then built a brick structure on the site in 1868. Mr. Lutz had learned the blacksmith trade from his father who was known as an expert chain-maker. After the Civil War began, he turned the shop over to his helper, James Harris and joined the 154th Regiment. When he returned from the war he was joined by his father in the manufacturing of farm wagons.

This shop was also responsible for repairing tools for the railroads. In addition, he carried on an extensive business in carriage and buggy repair and painting, and at one time the business was a clearing house for wholesale iron and “blacksmith coal”, a product which was low in Sulphur with little smoke. One car load would keep all blacksmiths in the county in business for about a year.

Wagons built at the Lutz factory were said to “last forever” with material obtained from timber in the Xenia locality. The wood was well seasoned before being used in the manufacturing of wagons.

Henry J. Lutz succeeded his father in the business, but due to ill health, retired and sold the property. The seventy year old two story building was purchased by the John P. Bocklet plumbing firm which planned to use the building to good advantage. Temporary repairs were made and the ground floor was to be used partly as a warehouse for storage of pipe. The plumbing firm owned the lot next door and purchased the property to provide additional storage space.

The blacksmith business would not end there. Frank Robinett learned the trade from Joh Lutz when he was quite young and had been operating the business in the Lutz building. When the building was sold, he planned to continue in the business by building a new shop on West Market Street near his home.

Of course, with the number of horses in Greene County, the trade is still a necessity, but the village smithy, as once known is no longer. If you would like to see a how a blacksmith worked, the Greene County Historical Society has a display depicting such a shop.

By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a local resident and long-time historical columnist.

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