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The James Porter Blacksmith Shop of Fairview

Milestones Vol 27. No. 2

by Clyde Piquet


James L. Porter, blacksmith, is the son of Robert and Eliza (Loyd) Porter and was born in Unionville, Beaver County, in February, 1854. His parents were natives of Allegheny County, his mother having been born in McKeesport; and his grandfathers on both sides were natives of Ireland. James attended the home school at Unionville, and also one in Stewart County, Tenn. At the age of sixteen years he began learning the blacksmith's trade, and in 1876 opened a shop at Black Hawk post office, where he remained for 12 years. He then opened a shop at East Liverpool, Ohio, and after sixteen months moved to Fairview, his present location. He married December 16, 1877, Katharine McFarland, daughter of Benjamin and Mary (Donovan) McFarland, who was born March 26, 1858, in South Beaver Township. Two children have blessed this union, Edwin B. and Clyde A. both of whom are at home. Mr. and Mrs. Porter are members of the Presbyterian Church.----Warner's 1880 History of Beaver County Pennsylvania

The blacksmith shop of James L. Porter as it appeared sometime after the 1890s in Fairview.

Many years ago the blacksmith was a very important person in the community. He was usually a man of high standing in his village or town and a person of some importance not only because of his skill as a craftsman but because he provided a very vital service to the citizens in the area in which his blacksmith shop was located.

Such a man must have been James Porter, who conducted a blacksmith shop for many years in the Fairview area of the present day Ohioville Borough.

The observations made here were possible through the kindness of Mrs. John Dawson, whose father was Clyde Porter, the son of James Porter, whose account books were discovered stored away in the attic of her mother's home. Mrs. Dawson stated that she can't remember her father having any account books, so all of the old books apparently are from the Blacksmith Shop that was located in Fairview.

There seem to be a variety of addresses for the Porter Blacksmith shop; however, it is believed that the manner in which the mail was delivered was the only change and not the location of the shop. The mail address was Esther, Pennsylvania, then Fairview, followed by Smiths Ferry, but no matter what the name of the post office may have been, the mail still went to the shop in Fairview.

The duties and tasks performed by the blacksmith were quite varied. Anything made of metal, if it wasn't made at the blacksmith shop to begin with, sooner or later made a trip there either for repair or eventually to be sold or traded in for scrap. The scrap pile of the blacksmith was usually a heap for which only a blacksmith could visualize some future use.

This is the blacksmith shop in Ohioville where it was used by both James Porter and later by his son, Clyde.

Horse shoeing is the first thing that comes into our minds when the word blacksmith is mentioned. Truly it must have been an art in itself to shoe a horse properly and trim the hooves of those that were brought to him. Removing the shoes seemed to be a job which the account books record.

But horse shoeing was only one facet of the smith's job. The records indicate countless items that needed the attention of the blacksmith to keep the harnesses in repair. There were all sorts of metal rings, clevis and buckle, bits for the horses. Wagons and buggies, the chief means of travel and transportation in bygone days, also frequently needed attention and repairs, be it the axle, singletree, sometimes the kingpin or strap bolt. New wheels or repairs to them or new iron tires probably indicate that a broken wheel was worse than a flat tire on the auto today.


On October 17, 2000, volunteers from the south Side Village Association
tore down and moved the shop from Ohioville to the Hookstown Gange Fairgrounds.

The blacksmith was also the only one who could make the repairs to wagons and buggies, a service equivalent to and as necessary as our present day garage mechanic.
The next area of service rendered by the blacksmith was the repairing of farm implements and machinery. Mr. Porter had accounts of repairing hay balers, also hooping barrels. In addition, sharpening the mattocks of the farmers, repairing shovels, and fixing saw handles are recorded many times in the account books.

A most important part of the oil industry was serviced by Mr. Porter. Oil production had experienced a boom in the area, after which it became temporarily dormant, only to be revitalized in the early 1900s. All sorts of nuts, bolts, and rods were used. Sometimes these could be repaired, but also new forged parts had to be made for the numerous oil wells scattered throughout the area.

In the proper season -- whether for soap making, boiling water or washing or butchering or perhaps the cooking of apple butter -- new kettle stands were made.
Other account items included log chains for the Ohio Township road grader and repairs to the grader itself. Just of what materials this piece of equipment was made up I don't know, but there were numerous repairs made on the road grader and some repairs to other equipment. Bridge bolts were also listed for the township.

Dr. Walter Sweeney, on the right, with Dennis and Betty Porter Hearld who donated the shop to the South Side Historical Village
stand in front of the reconstructed shop.

The Porter account books list many items that are rarely found in today's business accounts. All transactions were not always paid for with cash.

Credit to one account was made in 1886 for $14.00 for 806 pounds of iron. Another credit item was 164 pounds of hog at 6 cents per pound or $9.89.

It is very interesting to see the accounts for shoeing horses for the Midland Steel Company. Evidently Mr. Porter was the closest blacksmith in the area when the development of the Midland Steel Company accounts began in 1905.

At some point, James Porter took the second story off his shop and moved it to his farm in Ohioville, where it was used as a blacksmith shop for many years. Clyde Porter, Lester Porter's son, ran the shop after his father's retirement.

After remaining vacant for fifty years, it was rescued by the Southside Historical Village Association, which moved it to Hookstown in October of 2000.

This move occured on the rainy day of October 17, 2000. Instrumental in the move were Betty Brodmerkel, Dr. Walter Sweeney, Bill Mercer, and other members of the Association.

The roof was cut into four 26 foot-wide sections and loaded onto truck beds with a crane. The four walls were then loaded onto trucks and moved to Hookstown.
The Western Pennsylvania Blacksmith Society equipped the shop and has been conducting classes and demonstrations of blacksmithing.