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History Blacksmith and Millwrights

The following is taken from The History of Horsham by Craven.

Each village in the township had one or more blacksmiths, whose services were in great demand. The blacksmith made tools for himself and for other craftsmen. He might make an awl for the cobbler, a scraper for the tanner, and a chisel for the cabinetmaker. The blacksmith was an expert with wrought iron. He could make cooking utensils to order. Hinges, Latches, bolts, andirons, pokers, and even the common nail were made in his shop.

The focal point of his shop was the forge or furnace built usually of stone. A charcoal fire was kept burning in the forge. Bellows made of a whole ox hide sent forth a blast of air which blew the fire to intense heat. The bellows were attached to a crossbeam set between two posts. The narrowest part of the bellows was connected to the “tue iron”, a tapered nozzle through which the air entered the forge. When the lower leaf of the bellows was raised the leather would become pleated and force the air out of the bellows. The air had originally entered through a small hole at the other end which was partially sealed by a flap of leather.

The blacksmith would use a long-handled iron tool called the “forge tong” to hold the piece of iron which was being heated. Positioned in front of the forge was usually the butt of a log on which was set the anvil. The blacksmith would heat the iron and then shape it by hammering it on the uniquely curved and flat surfaces of the anvil. Various chisels were fitted into a small hole in the top of the anvil. These would cut the iron as the smith hammered down upon them.

The blacksmith was also a farrier, in other words, one who could make and fit horse shoes. The shoes were made from iron rods and then shaped to fit the peculiarities of the feet of the animal. Sometimes blacksmiths would make shoes for oxen.

The blacksmith was considered an expert in the treatment of diseases of animals, and was consulted by the other villagers when an animal became ill. He would also pull an aching tooth for a neighbor, if the need arose.

Some blacksmiths specialized in making cutlery and so came to be known as “cutlers”. They had a great knowledge of the properties of iron, and how to control the heating and cooling processes to achieve a particular result. These men made knives, scissors, razors and swords.

Often near the blacksmith’s shop would be a wheelwright shop. Sometimes one man would be both a blacksmith and a wheelwright or wainwright, as they were often called. A wheelwright built wagons and carts. As this required skill in woodworking, a man would usually specialize in this and have a blacksmith assist him.

The wagon wheels were made of curved sections of wood, often oak, which had been shaped by hand using an ax and an adz. These sections were called “fellies”. The wooden wheels were shod on the outer surface with curved strips of iron called “strakes”. The strakes were nailed on the rim while red-hot, and then this part of the wheel was quickly submerged in a water-filled hole. When cooled then metal contracted; thereby, drawing the follies together.

The wheelwright also made the wagon’s running gear - the axles, the axletrees that connected the axles and the wheels, and the perch, a long pole which positioned the axles. The perch was fixed rigidly to the rear axle, and the forward end of the perch rested on the front axle, but was secured to it only by the iron “king bolt”; thereby, allowing the front of the wagon to swerve freely for turning corners. Set across the perch and the boards that braced it was a timber called the “bolster” to which was bolted the floor of the wagon. The tongue or pole by which the animals pulled the wagon was attached to the front “hounds” or bracing boards.

Old maps of Horsham Township show the location of blacksmith and wheelwright shops. Wherever a few houses clustered along the side of a highway, there was sure to be one or the other, or perhaps both types of shops.

In 1799 Benjamin Molt purchased a half-acre of land at the corner of Horsham and Babylon roads and built a blacksmith shop. In 1860 there was a blacksmith shop at the junction of Davis Grove and Privet Roads. Later, this was Brook’s Blacksmith Shop. A wheelwright shop was located on a triangular piece of land near this intersection. This was Bissy’s Corner, named for Bissy the wheelwright. Bissy built a windmill on his property to supply power for his shop.

James H. Downs was the wheelwright in the shop on Dresher Road, owned in 1884 by George Gearhart. Jacob Moore was the blacksmith. About 1890 Downs and Moore moved to a combined shop on Easton Road near the corner of Hatboro Pike. Jacob Moore’s old stone house still stands nearby. Nick Buckner later owned the blacksmith shop on Dresher Road. H. Watson operated a blacksmith and wheelwright shop on the east side of Easton Road near Homestead Lane in 1871. On Easton at Hallowell, Charles and Harry Rutherford had a blacksmith shop a few years later.

For fifty years, Ruben Finley had a blacksmith shop at Prospectville. There was a wheelwright shop next to his shop. George Worth operated a blacksmith shop across the street. J. H. Mann had a wheelwright shop on his property on Mann Road, in 1871. Through the years, the owners of the various blacksmith and wheelwright shops changed as the business was passed down from father to son, or perhaps to a man who had served as an apprentice. The names of the shops would change accordingly. Today there are no longer any of the old shops left in the Township.


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Horsham Preservation and Historical Association (HPHA)
900 Governor Road
Horsham, PA 19044 USA
© 2000- Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
A Community Benefit Organization

Horsham Preservation and Historical Association (HPHA)
900 Governor Road
Horsham, PA 19044 USA
© 2000- Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
We are A Community Benefit Organization
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