"Historic Highlights" for Gilford Steamer’s 12 August 2004

Farmers Recall Olden Days as Blacksmith Demonstrates

Gilford’s historical society, the Thompson-Ames Historical Society, was organized more than 60 years ago to preserve and celebrate our town’s cultural heritage. As part of its activities, monthly meetings and programs are held from May through December.

Back in 2000, something happened that caused Gilford’s historical society to expand its offerings. That was the year when New Hampshire was being spot-lighted in Washington, D.C. Our state did well in depicting the essence of New Hampshire as many New Hampshire artisans accepted invitations to participate. -- And that gave us an idea: Why not expand Thompson-Ames Historical Society’s offerings to spot-light vintage arts and crafts, to advance appreciation and to try to keep these artisans’ skills alive? -- And thus our Saturday morning offerings came into being.

On Saturday morning, August 14th, Thompson-Ames Historical Society will spot-light the skills of blacksmiths and the historical impact of blacksmiths on Gilford’s history. J. P. Hobby will set up his portable forge on the front lawn of the Union Meetinghouse, at 24 Belknap Mountain Road, and demonstrate the work of the blacksmith. Pete Labonte and Jim Colby, two long-time Gilford farmers, will join in the banter as they recall the roles of the blacksmith and the blacksmith’s products. Examples of vintage tools from Thompson-Ames Historical Society’s collections as well as samples of J.P.’s work will be on display.

This activity, which will begin at 10;00 a.m. and end before noon, is free and open to the public.

This happening provides an opportunity to review blacksmithing as part of Gilford’s history.

We turn to Adair Mulligan’s words in The Gunstock Parish: A History of Gilford, New Hampshire. "One of Gilford’s first blacksmiths was Antipas Gilman at Liberty Hill. The Blaisdell family was prominent around the forge; Samuel set up his shop near Lily Pond in 1789, and four of his sons followed him, including John, who made hoes and edge-tools at his village shop on the site of the town hall and Baptist Church. Among the longest-lived was Benjamin Wadley’s blacksmith shop near the site of the present Gilford Village Knolls. Wadley’s shop eventually passed to Charles Gove, who brought his skill to a national market when he began to produce horse-drawn sidewalk snow plows. In 1839 William Wadley opened a shop on the Gully Road to Laconia, near the present tennis courts, often drawing an audience of village boys to watch an irritated ox dangle in a leather sling while being shod."

Adair Mulligan goes on to say, "The smithy was to the early Gilfordite as the service garage and hardware store are to us today. The blacksmith shod horses and oxen, made axes, plows, chains, and other farming tools, produced kitchen trammels, pots, and other cooking implements, set wheels and repaired iron parts of vehicles, and produced some of the nails, hinges, latches, and other hardware in demand for construction."

Although. the iron ore found in our vicinity was too scant to make smelting profitable, purchasing and using pig iron proved a profitable venture. In 1828 Stephen Lyford entered the picture and launched the Gilford Iron Foundry to manufacture machinery and hollowware. In 1837, using an outdoor potash kettle with charcoal and a bellows salvaged from Branch Harlows defunct mining operations, Isaac Cole started a foundry in Lake Village that grew into the Cole Manufacturing Company s blast furnace and iron works with a product line that included farm machinery, water wheels, and the cast-iron doors of many of the brick bake ovens and ash storage pits found in Gilford homes before Cole’s cookstoves made them obsolete; Cole was there to help housewives stuff stovepipes up their kitchen f ire-place flues and farmers to trade in their old wooden and iron—clad plows for cast-iron versions. In 1845, Benjamin Cole purchased a thirty-five acre parcel in the center of Gilford’s side of Lake Village, which became the site of machine shops, blacksmith and axle shops, and included even the Rublee carriage and blacksmith shops.

When Jim Colby and Pete Labonte eye the numerous iron tools in Thompson-Ames Historical Society’s collections, they soon start swapping tales that these items bring to mind. Many are the items -- an iron-clad plow, shoes for horse and ox, square-cut nails, spikes, bits, chain, a hay knife, a hay cutter, pitch forks, ~rn forks, axe heads, f roe -- and many are the tales.

Pete tells about his grandfather Charlie Mitchell who worked for WPA as a blacksmith to repair tools, such as shovels, pick axes and sledges, used to build the Gunstock Lodge, 1936-7. He recalls how Hardey, a blacksmith in Lake Port across from the old Boulia Gorrell Lumber Yards would bring a portable forge to a farm in order to shoe a horse; an old shoe was used as a pattern ahead of time back at the main shop to size and shape the new shoe.

Then the topic of discussion soon becomes the Hurricane of 1938 which felled countless trees and brought much work to the area as men salvaged the downed lumber. It was a time before the advent of power saws and blacksmiths’ skills were in great demand to make and to keep in good repair the needed tools -- the cant dog and the Peavey used to manipulate the huge logs, chains to drag the logs, axes and two-man crosscut saws to cut up the timber. And as each tool is mentioned, Jim and Pete point to the sample in the T-AHS collection, with an appreciation for the items preserved.

As has been said many times already, how fortunate Gilford is that concerned Gilfordites chose to establish an historical society for Gilford six decades ago and that so many people have chosen to entrust their precious family items to Gilford’s Thompson-Ames Historical Society to preserve Gilford’s cultural heritage.

We hope that there will be many people who come out to see the demonstration and enjoy and participate in the discussion that these volunteers are offering as T-AHS’s activity on Saturday morning, August 14th, in Gilford Village.

For further information, please telephone T-AHS at 527-9009.