By Warren Miller 

In early Prescott the village smithy may not have stood under a spreading Chestnut tree, but his presence was vital to all building and commerce. The blacksmith's hand-forged iron was critically important on the frontier and in Territorial Arizona, where manufactured goods were difficult to obtain and expensive, and often unavailable at any price without the lengthy wait required for orders to travel to and goods be shipped from the manufacturing eastern states. The ability to make iron tools, implements, utensils and hardware, from wagon fittings to door latches to harness fastenings, on the spot and using available materials, aided the advance of civilization. 

The 1903 Prescott City Directory gives an idea of the relative importance of blacksmithing at the turn of the century: five blacksmith shops are listed, in contrast to two plumbing

shops and one electrical shop. The blacksmiths were all located within two blocks west and two blocks south of the Plaza: F.E. Andrews, at 111 So. Granite; F.G. Brecht, on the SW corner of Granite and Gurley streets; John Hartin, SE corner of Gurley and McCormick streets; Jas.Keegan, 215 S. Montezuma Street; and Williams & Leland, 223 S. Montezuma Street. 

These town blacksmiths were not the only skilled ironworkers in the area. Most mines employed smiths (see the accompanying photo) who were kept busy sharpening picks and hard rock drills, repairing shovels and buckets, and forging implements like candle holders and long narrow spoons for cleaning out blasting holes. Ranches and farms usually had at least one hand that knew how to forge iron, that fitted horseshoes, fashioned plows and digging tools, and repaired wagon and harness iron. And, of course, the railroads employed many smiths to keep the iron horses in good repair. 

The five blacksmith shops in 1903 Prescott were all within a block or two of the Sharlot Hall Museum, where skills, trades and crafts of the past will be shown during the 24th Annual FOLK ARTS FAIR, June 7 & 8. Chino Valley farrier, Charlotte Foss, is one of several blacksmiths who will demonstrate their working style. She hot-forges horse-shoes, and is still called upon regularly to fit custom horseshoes to correct hoof or gait problems, even in this time when manufactured horseshoes come in a wide variety of sizes and weights. Other area blacksmiths, who have found a contemporary niche forging custom hardware, sculptural pieces, and fine knives, will also be on hand. 

The FOLK ARTS FAIR is a community celebration of old-time arts, skills, and entertainments. It is not a craft fair sales event, but a festival dedicated to the preservation of the old ways. In addition to blacksmithing, visitors can expect to see woodcarving, china painting, tatting, quilting, sheep shearing, sheepdog demonstrations, weaving and stone knapping; to take part in candle dipping, cornhusk doll making, pottery throwing, corn grinding and sampling Dutch-oven biscuits; and to enjoy traditional fiddling, old-time songs, and folk dancing. And the best part is that it is free! Hours are 10 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday, June 7 and 8, 1997. More information may be had by calling 445-3122. 

Warren Miller is Curator of Education at Sharlot Hall Museum.

Illustrating image

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (m366p)
Reuse only by permission.

A blacksmith and his tools at an unknown mine in Yavapai county circa 1880. The ability to make iron tools, implements, utensils and hardware, from wagon fittings to door latches to harness fastenings, on the spot and using available materials aided the advance of civilization.