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POSTCARD MEMORIES: Blacksmiths were cornerstones of communities

If it was made of metal, blacksmiths like Joseph Fizzell were expected to know how to make and repair it

One of the most important artisans in any community in the 19th and early 20th centuries was the blacksmith. Every village had one. Many — Bradford included — had several at the same time.

It’s easy to equate blacksmiths with horseshoeing and nothing more, but that would provide an incomplete picture of their value to the community and detract from their expertise. In addition to forging horseshoes, blacksmiths repaired farm equipment such as plows and furrows, rimmed wagon wheels, made and repaired a variety of tools for farms, and even crafted household items like hinges. In short, if the product was metal, a blacksmith was expected to be able to make and repair it.

Many smiths expanded their businesses from a simple smithy into a carriage shop where they would make wagons and carts, and even cutters for winter. Others, such as Middleton’s Joseph Fizzell (1849-1929), became agents for agricultural implement manufacturers. (See photo of ad.)

A savvy blacksmith always located his shop around the four corners of a community. It’s where the most traffic passed, obviously, and it made him readily accessible for any emergency shoeing and wagon repairs travellers might need. Bradford was no exception. Tommy Lautanee opened a smithy at 21 Barrie St., just north of the corners, which was carried forth as late as 1937 by George Geddes.

It wasn’t unusual for blacksmiths to hang on in agricultural communities this late, despite the encroachment of automobiles, as many farmers were slow to give up on horsepower. Now, the ringing of hammer striking metal is gone and the role blacksmiths played nearly forgotten.

Thankfully, Fizzell’s brother, Robert (1858-1933), left us a rare photo of his blacksmith shop. It was taken in Illinois, where he moved for better opportunities, but it’s illustrative of a smithy’s interior and working conditions.