Blacksmiths were the beating heart of early colonial communities, providing the skills to fashion shoes for oxen or horses while mending broken iron tools. As shipbuilding took off as an industry, blacksmiths were often employed to fit the ships with ironworks. Some of the early blacksmiths for Blue Hill included Theodore Stevens, Edward Varum Stevens, Frederick Stevens, Richard Abbott, Clarence Snowman and James Bettel. Typically Blacksmiths were taught in either a guild system or through an apprenticeship, but most likely in Colonial America, many of these men would have learned as an apprenticeship at the age of 10-12 years of age. The training takes 8-10 years to fully master the craft. The work of these early smiths can still be found in the iron farming implements still being used on farms in the present day.
The Mill Stream in Blue Hill has long been the site of many industrial-minded buildings from Matthew Ray’s edge tool shop to Daniel Osgood’s grist mill and George Stevens’ cotton mill on the Mill Stream above High Street. Originally on this site, there was a house that was built and occupied by Eben Garland, the shoemaker as his storefront. The home was passed between the McIntyre and Gross family until it burned down.
It has been said that Frederick Stevens built the shop on the bridge in 1852, selling it to Richard Abbott – however there are no records as such to support this claim nor dispute it. It has also been said that William H Darling put in granite foundations for a bank here in 1880’s, but that was the beginning and end of that venture due to financial woes from the Copper Mining speculation busting.
By 1888, Clarence Snowman (1864 – 1913) owned the lot and appears to have been the one to build the structure on site now. Clarence Snowman was the son of Sewell P. Snowman, a Civil War Veteran that witnessed the build-up to South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Clarence split the lot between himself and James B. Bettel, who had long run a jobbing and horseshoeing business on Water Street and happened to be Clarence’s brother-in-law. Clarence Snowman continued to work at this location until he sold the property to Charles F. Wescott in 1910. For fifty-years, Wescott’s Forge was a landmark in Blue Hill Village – originally meeting the needs of the community by showing horses and oxen, but eventually that faded into a different pursuit.
With the introduction of the Dorrity Stage Coach and eventually automobiles and the decline in the shipping industry, blacksmiths needed to find a new outlet for their craft. Charles Wescott worked in the building from 1910 to his death in 1959, but between the occasional horse shoeing he was able to craft wonderful masterpieces out of metal. He was even known to make rings for little kids from horseshoe nails, which many remember losing quickly as children are apt to do.
Wescott renamed the business Hammer and Tongs and began his forty year stint of creating, both from his own designs and that of other local artists. His wares ranged from metal signs or gates, including the ones at The Old Cemetery on Union Street and the gate at Seaside Cemetery, to fire screens to hanging flower pots. Wescott even did a few statues, but those have long since disappeared with the exception of one: Pan the Piper, depicting Pan lazing against a metallic tree while playing his pipes. The statue was originally created for Arcady, the estate of Mrs. Ethelbert Nevin, widow of a famed composer of the late 19th century. Arcady can be seen near the Reversing Falls Bridge as one heads towards Brooklin.
In 1966, Wescott’s children and his widow sold the property to Katherine “Kitty” Austin Clements – who had earlier sponsored an iron craft shop there during the summer for many years. After her marriage, Kitty Austin sold the property to Russell Phillips in 1968. Phillips reopened the blacksmith shop there and worked with Thayer Bowden at the forge during the summer months. Thayer Bowden was a self-taught blacksmith for the most part, earning some metal work training during his military service. In 1974, Phillips sold the property to John Hikade who opened a furniture stripping business there, while Bowden continued to blacksmith during the summers. On the upper floors, The Handworks Store was opened, a craft store and gallery. In 1977 major renovation took place and a new story was added below street level by extensive excavation.
By June of 1978 “The Firepond” opened in the basement under the partnership of John Hikade and Ben Wootten. The restaurant took its name from the firepond constructed across the street at the mouth of the stream. From that point onwards the Forge had fully closed its doors after a hundred years of smithing. Henceforth the building was used as a restaurant including 66 Steak & Seafood and as of 2021, Blaze.
Although the craft of blacksmithing has declined in popularity in the last sixty years, the both practical and whimsical echoes of these early Smiths can still be found in the strangest of places. If you are walking around downtown Blue Hill, if you spy some twisted iron railings outside some of the local businesses, you are seeing some of the hidden examples of the skills of these Smiths. A subtle, yet long lasting artform that still finds its way into the modern era.