Beckley Furnace's iron-solid past comes alive
NORTH CANAAN â€” About two centuries ago, when iron was first extracted from the hills of northwest Connecticut and the first influx of settlers was arriving, blacksmiths were in great demand.
At Saturdayâ€™s annual Blackberry River Walk, blacksmith Dan Blain of Storrowton Village Museum in West Springfield, Mass., set up a portable forge and anvil in front of the preserved Beckley Iron Furnace, the stateâ€™s only industrial monument. He explained how his â€œtravelingâ€ forge is much the same as the ones blacksmiths would have used in that bygone era.
â€œBack then, they were not specialized like they are today, making mostly decorative items or horseshoes,â€ Blain said. â€œThey made all the things the villagers needed, such as tools and nails, that villagers couldnâ€™t get elsewhere. A really good blacksmith could make a nail a minute. The average house used 450 nails. They kept very busy.â€
Before the Beckley Furnace was built, a slitting mill was constructed on the site specifically to mass produce those essential nails. It was the first use of the site for making iron products.
Later, the large blast furnace operation put blacksmiths on the payroll. They worked full time on tasks that included keeping tools, such as stone chisels, sharpened.
Work to preserve the Blackberry River dam, built in 1872 to harness water power for the Beckley Iron Furnace, is progressing under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which owns the historic industrial monument site.
To learn more about Beckley Furnace and future events there, go online to beckleyfurnace.org.