The Vagabond: Early blacksmith shops

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By Danny Crownover

By the 1950s, one could not find any old-time village blacksmith shops around town.

There was a time when Gadsden had several such businesses located close to the Etowah County Courthouse. Back in the 1870’s and 1880’s, William Christopher had a blacksmith shop at the southwest corner of Chestnut and Fourth streets and Apollo Harris had one on South Fourth Street near Walnut Street.

Christopher and Harris were among the most prominent men of their era. Christopher raised a large family, and several of his sons were blacksmiths. Two of them, George Edward and Rufus, were still living in the early 1950s. The other sons raised in the business were Allie and Joe.

Harris married Addie Turrentine, daughter of General D.C. Turrentine, one of the prominent men of early Gadsden. He moved to Corpus Christi, Texas in the late 1880s and became wealthy.

One well-known smithy back then was John Gilliland. He cut and shrink wagon tires and repaired farm and mill machinery while making coffins in his adjoining wood shop. It was at Gilliland’s place where you could see a mule thrown so it could be shod.

The animal being thrown was usually gentle enough for all purposes, but there was one a mule that would not stand for its hooves to be trimmed and shoed. When that particular mule was brought to Gilliland’s shop, several men were needed to bind its four legs with ropes, after which the animal was bound, tripped up and shod as it lay on its sides.

There was a particularly mean horse in the community that had to be given the same rough treatment. It was later discovered that a cord tied around the animal’s upper or lower lip and tightened with a stick inserted in the loop was sufficient to quiet a bad actor.

Those old-time smithies operate a bellow by means of short pulls at the lever, which was the motive power. They kept a constant stream of air going into the hot coals and knew exactly when the iron on steel had been heated to the right temperature. These blacksmiths tempered metal into the slack-water tub after they had hammered it into the desired shape. Some blacksmiths were real artists in this respect.

One place that still teaches the old way is the Lookout Mountain School of Horseshoeing located on Tabor Road about six miles above Noccalula Falls. Since 1987, Tom McNew has been teaching new students the art of being a farrier.

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