By LINDA MCALPINE Daily News Staff
RICHFIELD — They used to be common, something every town and village needed at least 100 years ago — blacksmith shops.
“Two hundred years ago, there were no Menards or Home Depots so if you wanted to build a home here, you first had to clear the land by knocking down trees. That meant you had to pay a visit to your local blacksmith, who would make you an axe,” Roger Snyder, a blacksmith and owner of Black Oak Forge in Juneau, told a standing-roomonly audience during his presentation on the art and trade of blacksmithing at a meeting of the Richfield Historical Society on Thursday at Richfield Village Hall.
“Blacksmiths were necessary,” Snyder said.
It is a trade that goes back at least 3,000 years in China and Japan, were it was discovered that metals, such as brass, could be heated and made into weapons, Snyder said. It was in Spain where the firing of iron was discovered.
When the Industrial Revolution took place, threatening to diminish the necessity for blacksmiths because of mass production, the trade with some blacksmiths, who worked with horseshoeing, adding veterinary skills to their skillset while others branched out and used their abilities with metals for more artistic endeavors, such as creating decorative railings, fountains and elaborate grillwork for public buildings and the private homes of the wealthy.
Today, blacksmiths like Snyder do custom metal work.
“I learned blacksmithing as an apprentice when I was 15 years old from a third-generation blacksmith from Germany,” he said. “While many smiths today have shifted to using things like propane for heat, I still use a coal-fired forge.”
Snyder said the items he creates for his customers are, by their very nature, one-of-a-kind. “I can take two pieces of metal and make two shepherd’s hooks and while they may look the same, because they are made by hand, they will not be identical,” he said.
Snyder operates Black Oak Forge, W5970 Highway 33 in Juneau, that has a showroom and blacksmith shop. He said he plans to build an outdoor showroom this year and wants to open his business to school students for field trips. “I think it’s important for kids to see how things were made,” he said.
For Mike Schuetz, of Slinger, watching the local blacksmith work when he was a kid has led to a life-long fascination with the trade.
“I have been collecting photos of old blacksmith shops for many, many years,” he said about the framed photos he brought to the meeting. “You can’t find photos like these anymore.”
Two of the pictures were of blacksmith shops in Washington County, one in Allenton and one in Slinger. Schuetz said the building that once was home to the Jacob Myear blacksmith shop, captured in a photo from around 1910, still stands but looks different since the false front of the building has since been removed. The shop in Slinger has since been torn down.
Using his collection of photos of blacksmith shops from around the country, Schuetz has created one of his own at his home on Highway 60.
“I used a magnifying glass to study the pictures and I have tried to be as authentic in the recreation as I could be,” Schuetz said.