The blacksmith

Local History by Ron Patch. Ron Patch is a Chester native, Chester Historical Society president, and a lifelong antiques dealer. He can be reached at 802-374-0119 or email knotz69@gmail.com.

The blacksmith was an important tradesman in the old days. There were blacksmiths who were farriers. Others made iron strap hinges, rims for wagon wheels, or tools. All could make or repair most anything.

The iron they used in those days was not as pure as the iron we have today. Blacksmiths saved any scrap iron they found. An old broken plow was used to forge new iron implements.

In the 1883 Child’s Windsor County Gazetteer, I found 13 blacksmiths working in Chester. Two blacksmiths were on Main Street. Three are listed in Chester Depot with two in North Chester. Others were scattered around town.

Springfield, three times the population of Chester, had 10 blacksmiths in 1883. Ludlow had five blacksmiths. Why did Chester have more blacksmiths than these towns?

Chester had the railroad where many products were shipped. Soapstone and talc from Windham, Chester, and Grafton, logs from area forests, and farmers shipping their goods all added up to a very busy and prosperous Chester. All of these products were delivered to the Depot with team and wagon.

blacksmith
Frank Jarvis in his blacksmith shop. Photo provided by Chester Historical Society

From Louis Marshall’s May 1913 ledger are a couple relevant entries. “We went to Chester after building. It rained, had good luck.” The next day: “Loading building to start home broke wheel at Bunting hill on forward axle. I drove the 4 horses got another wheel.” I use this entry to illustrate how hard these horse-drawn wagons were used.

Two days later: “Father got his horses shod and a load of grain at Chester.” Again, a blacksmith was needed to shoe the horses.

Blacksmiths of the day kept these teamsters in business. Breakdowns were costly to the teamster. A while back I wrote about W.R. Spaulding “Ironing the hearse.” You may recall ironing a wagon was beefing up the iron on a wagon. If you made your living with a team, a blacksmith was your best friend.

The photo with this article is Frank Jarvis in his blacksmith shop. His shop was next to his house where today the Green Mountain Turnpike meets Route 103 near the old gristmill.

It’s an interesting photo to study. Frank stands at his anvil with an oil lamp overhead. Underneath, a workbench on the left can be seen many horseshoes. Behind Frank, you’ll notice a coat covering a window. The photographer covered the window for better light to photograph. To the left of Frank is a poster advertising farm machinery.

To the right, you can see the brick forge. Air from the bellows fed the coals. You can see fire rising from the forge. The shop is cluttered with tools and other implements.

Blacksmith
Blacksmith made ox shoes. Photo by Ron Patch

Frank’s daughter, Mrs. Cassidy, was my fourth grade teacher at Chester Elementary School. I remember one day we were coloring in class. I was a little hyper when I was young. I was trying to color, but I was one of those kids who rapidly colored in long zigzag strokes. I couldn’t stay in the lines. Mrs. Cassidy was walking up and down the rows of desks looking at our coloring. When she got to me she said, “A two-year-old could color better than you.”

  Whatzit

Last week’s Whatzit was a snowball hammer, sometimes called a snowballer. Men working in the woods with a team needed this specialized hammer. Driving on a snow-covered road spared horses from chunks of ice and snow collecting on their hooves.

But in the woods, a team might walk through a swampy area or cross a brook. When the horses’ feet got wet, the snow would stick to their hooves. Imagine a horse with iron shoes trying to ascend or descend a steep grade.

The ice and snow covered the cleats of the horseshoes, making it impossible for horses to gain traction. If a horse slipped, he might break a leg. The answer was the snowball hammer.

Often blacksmith made, these snowball hammers were uniquely designed by the blacksmith. There is a snap on the handle end so the snowballer could be fastened to a leather harness.

The teamster used the hammer end to strike the iron shoes to dislodge frozen ice. The curved end has a pointed tip to chip ice around the shoe. This snowballer shows many strikes from the blacksmith peening the hot iron.

The Frank Jarvis photo with this article is one of 18 photos in the 2020 Chester Historical Society calendar. They are available at Lisai’s Market, Erskine’s Feed Store, Salon 2000, The Framery of Vermont, Stonehouse Antiques Center, Blair Books & More, and Chester Hardware.

This week’s old saying comes from a blacksmith. “Strike while the iron’s hot.”

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