by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist
a craft, the history of blacksmithing dates back to the Iron Age, or about 1200
BCE. At its most basic, smithing
involves using fire and an assortment of tools to forge items from iron or
steel. Over the centuries, smiths have
made everything from tools to weapons, horseshoes to art.
the 20th Century, every town and village in America had at least one
blacksmith. In 1861, there were 7 smiths
in Elmira; 4 in Big Flats; 3 in Breesport, Post Creek, Millport and Wellsburg;
2 in Horseheads and Van Etten; and 1 in Pine Valley, Seely Creek, Ashland,
Chemung and Erin. These local
blacksmiths shod horses, made and repaired farming implements, pots and pans,
wagon parts and a wide range of other things necessary for everyday life.
however, greatly reduced the need for blacksmiths. Machines could produce metal goods faster and
more consistently than any human could.
The products produced by blacksmiths could vary widely from piece to
piece, but a machine would make the same thing each time. Towards the end of the 19th
Century, most blacksmiths had moved away from making tools and hardware and
were primarily involved in either shoeing horses or doing decorative work. And then came the car. In 1900, there were 25 smiths working in
Elmira alone. By 1920 there were 10 and
by 1960 there was only one smith in the whole county.
the 1960s were the nadir of the blacksmithing trade. Throughout the 20th Century,
smiths transitioned to automotive repairs or retired and few people were
interested in taking up the craft. In
the 1970s the Bicentennial led many to take an interest in traditional crafts
from quilting to blacksmithing. Today
blacksmiths can be roughly divided into two groups; farriers (they just shoe
horses) and artisans. The Artisan
Blacksmiths’ Association of North America has nearly 4000 members, many of whom
make decorative pieces and/or provide demonstrations at museums and living
On Saturday, June 15th, from
1pm to 3pm, one of these artisan smiths will be doing a demonstration of his
craft right here in the CCHS parking lot.
Nathaniel Francisco, a recent Elmira College grad, has been working as a
smith since high school and interned with the blacksmith at the Farmers Museum
in Cooperstown. Some of the products of
his work will be available for sale.
Hope to see you there.