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If we were to go back to 18th Century Goshen Township, we would come across one of the most wanted and needed crafts and skills of the time and that would have been the services of the blacksmith. Before we split in 1817 into East and West Goshen, the most prominent blacksmithing shop was that of Goshenville Blacksmith Shop which was built in 1740. We still have an active metal smithing business in West Goshen in the shop of Timothy Coldren at Monroe Coldren and Son, an Antiques and Blacksmithing business in service to us for the past 60 years or so. This shop is on Virginia Avenue and dates from Circa 1840. Tim today calls himself a “metal conservator” as he works with a myriad of metals in different forms, functions, uses, and states of restoration.
In the early days, the blacksmith opened his shop as farmers were waiting to have their wagons and farm implements repaired to be able to carry on their work for the day. There were also probably a few horses waiting to be shod as many of the blacksmiths were also trained to act as farriers to deal with animal needs. The blacksmith was a busy person working at his anvil to produce the nails, tools and supplies which builders and carpenters needed for construction, barrel rings for the cooper, and household items needed for our homes. He also made and fixed cooking implements, cauldrons, and hardware for their houses.
The most familiar instrument of the early blacksmith shop was the anvil and the forge which heated his metals to form or cast his wares. Some of the early anvils are said to have weighed in the area of four hundred pounds and were made from iron and or steel. The anvil was at waist height and elevated off the floor at this height usually by a large base of a tree trunk. The shape of the anvil has basically been the same since its inception. The nearby fire of charcoal was kept blazing all day, every day through the four seasons, by a bellows system. The more air the burning charcoal received, the hotter the fire and the faster the inserted metal got to a tempering stage for the smithy. An experienced blacksmith knew how hot the fire needed to be for each type of metal he was to work.
The metal was placed in the hot coals with a pair of tongs, which he also had made. When the appropriate temperature was met, the smithy could tell by the color of the hot metal, it was removed from the glowing embers and a selection of a dozen or so different weight hammers was used to bring the heated metal to the desired thickness and shape. The temperatures of the embers created by the air from the bellows could reach 2300 to 2400 degrees. If the hot metal was not held by the handmade tongs, it was placed in a metal vice attached to a work surface for shaping, filing, and finally polishing if it needed a special finish.
Many are surprised to learn that steel was used in those early time periods even though it was very expensive to use and took more skill to utilize than iron. Steel was used for the heavy use tools as it stood up to use over a longer period of time than the iron did. As an example, steel was used for the production of axes, hammers and files.
As mentioned afore, the blacksmith also was busy with shoes for some of the farm animals and the nails used in their application. There are even times when the smithy applied the shoes to the animal when brought by the shop. Being so busy with all the needs of the community, many blacksmiths took on an apprentice to teach them the trade so it could continue. With the proper training, practice, skill, and aptitude there was not much that the local blacksmith could not do with a piece of metal.
Sometimes the blacksmith was also versed as a Whitesmith. It was a similar occupation, but one which worked with tin plated iron or plain tin. There was little ready-made tin available and the supply was limited from England so as to cause the colonists to buy the readymade products from England. Examples of whitesmith wares would include, wall sconces, lanterns, tinderboxes, footwarmers, and candleboxes. Yes, candles were kept in tin boxes as some of them were made from animal fats and they were a delicacy for the mice looking for food. Since candles were handmade and a time-consuming operation, the average family burned maybe two per week, so they were kept secured from the mice and rodents in the homes.
Blacksmithing and metal conservation is still in operation in West Goshen at Monroe Colden Antiques and it is a busy business with the work being done to repair and restore many of the pieces which are taken to the shop. For over sixty years, Monroe Coldren and Son has been acquiring, restoring, and supplying materials for some of our nations and township’s finest homes. In addition to their smithing/ conservation skills, they stock a full line of architectural elements – mantels, doors, shutters, lighting and a full line of hearth equipment, furniture, candle sticks, brass, and copper pieces.