Under the Chestnut Tree

The cultural concept of industry in nineteenth century New England, as elsewhere, held a major dichotomy. On one hand there were the major factories and mills. These dominated their towns and were often the largest single employers. They were both sources of pride, in the products made, and social tension, both between the factory workers and the owners and between the factory workers and non-factory workers in a town. They were also generally regional in scope, and sometimes national or international, selling their products and importing materials from many different areas. In New Hartford, the Chapin Company, Standard Brush, and the Greenwoods Company were all businesses of this size.

However, these factories coexisted with small ‘cottage’ industries. Pre-eminent amongst these small businesses was the blacksmith shop. Circa 1900, New Hartford had eight practicing blacksmiths, located in New Hartford center, Pine Meadow, Nepaug, and Bakerville. The blacksmith occupied an interesting position in industrial history: they made custom material and repairs as a matter of course; but they also used with increasing frequency factory-made blanks. For example, they might buy blank scythe blades and then modify them for the specific customer, rather than starting from bar iron. However, the nineteenth century blacksmith could repair or make nearly anything that was made or iron or steel, from kitchen-ware to carriages. Additionally, of course, they shod horses and oxen. In a sense they combined the modern gas station with the hardware portion of a Home Depot. As most people would wait around for their oxen or horse to be shod, or for a minor repair to a tool, the blacksmith shop was one of the main places for local gossip and information.

Sometimes the social role was even greater: Bakerville’s blacksmith between the 1870’s and the 1950’s was George Jones. He served as chairman of the town’s Republican committee and the voter registration for the Bakerville district was one of his side jobs. Until recently, there were people in town that could recall going to his shop and, in the finest tradition, sitting around a nail keg and playing chequers while discussing the local news.

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