The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 2, Page 23.


Gleaned from Hither and Yon -- and Now and Then -- and Way Back When



(July 10, 1934)

We're tough old bricks,
We've stood the kicks,
In the day of cold,
In the days of Auld Lang Syne.

Today Siftings will attempt to bring to you a picture of the days when old Mechanic street, now Indiana avenue, was a busy, buzzing hive of industry. The industry of the Vale was located on that thoroughfare from the infancy of the town until nearly the close of the last century. At the west end was the Kellogg foundry. Next was the ---?--- and cigar factory of Old Man ---?---, father of Pete. Then came the blacksmith shop of the Barry Brothers where the picture of today was taken. On the southwest corner of Washington and Indiana stood Nathaniel Rose Strong Furniture and Coffin shop and winery, where communion wine was made for the churches. At one time this establishment employed more than twenty hands and made the furniture and coffins for the territory including Lake, Jasper, Starke, LaPorte and Porter counties. This was in the forties, fifties, sixties and seventies. Where the oil station is now located, corner of Franklin and Indiana, was located the Steward Tombstone shop, and on the northwest corner was the Cook blacksmith wagon and carriage shop. Old Mechanic street was a busy highway in its day. Skinner & Harold were the grain buyers and general merchants and did the bulk of the business of their line in their time. Their street scales weighed the grain, hay and stock of the farmers. They were located on the southeast corner of Washington and Mechanic. This background will give the reader an idea of the picture we shall attempt to make.

We have three survivors of the Blacksmith trade. We call them the "Three Blacksmitheers," who with Siftings gathered in the old Barry blacksmith shop, to recall old memories of bygone days. The time was Sunday afternoon. Seated on old horse shoe nail kegs were the three old timers, perfectly at home. The scenery was the grime of the blacksmith shop with all of its tools and material scattered around just natural. All of us were happy but the lady stenographer, whose dress I fear was somewhat soiled. But even she enjoyed the unusual situation. First called upon was David Barry. And this is his story, and he is ready to swear to it. Mr. Barry:

Hello, folks, this is David Barry speaking. I am talking to you of today and to those of tomorrow. Siftings has asked me to tell you my story of a trade that was once one of the big three in my life and in the lives of our pioneers, but which today is one that is now almost vanished. First of these was the saw mill, second the grist mill, and third the blacksmith shop. I will try to tell you something of the part I played as a blacksmith in old Valparaiso.

To begin at the beginning, I was born in the County of Kerry, in Ireland on May 24, 1851. I am one of a family of blacksmiths, the others being my brothers, Tom, John, James, Michael and William. I was the baby of the family. There were eleven of us, and all gone but me. When I was a lad of 18 or 19, my brother Mike wrote me to come to America, that he had a job for me. That was in the year 1872. I arrived in Valparaiso on April 9, 1872, and found my brothers owned the shop in which this story is being told. It was built in the year 1871 for Tom and Mike Barry. The contractors were Dickover and Weaver. I had finished my trade in the town of Dingle, County of Kerry, Ireland, and was a master workman when I reached America. I brought over with me the materials for making an iron plow, but it did not prove satisfactory for the conditions of the land in this country. They were successful in England, Scotland and Ireland. The demand then for the services of a blacksmith were confined to the shoeing of horses, sharpening of plow shares, making of shares, and grub-hoes, log chains, wagons, buggies, two-wheel carts for doctors, bob-sleds, two-wheeled drays, omnibuses, racing sulkies and a lot of other what-not too numerous to mention. We were busy in those days, especially when the roads were knee deep in mud or covered with ice. Many and many a night the shop was running in full blast until 11 o'clock and opened again at 4 o'clock in the morning to a line of horses waiting to be shoed.

In those days the only machinery the farmers had was made by hand. These included the wooden plow, the stern plow and cultivators. In the days of the nineties we did not have the kind of amusements that you folks have today. There were no movie houses and no cabarets, no automobiles nor any of what are considered the necessities of this day. We had to create our own amusements. Our pleasures consisted of maybe a barn dance, or a bob-sled ride with an oyster supper at the end at some farmer's house.

Father O'Reilly was the pastor of St. Paul's when I came here. To keep the lads out of mischief he organized the St. Paul's Cornet Band. I played the second tenor and I got so I could play umpah, umpah, terra boom-boom with the best of them. I remember that our first teacher was Charlie Dunham, and then came Professor Kopp. We got him out of Barnum's Circus. He was succeeded by Peter Schuster whom we also got from a circus and who was the father of Bob Felton's wife. Winnie Brewer was the star snare drummer. We had glorious times serenading the prominent citizens of the town and those victors of a political election. I can see Jim Griswold, the drum major, with that two-foot feathered hat of his, his long baton, marching at the head of the column with his knees hitting his belly-band.

I want to tell you the story of the "battle of the wagons." My brother, Tom, was keeping the blacksmith shop where I worked. My brother Mike was keeping the shop at the north end of the lot. The county fair was held the fall of '79. A premium was offered for the shop that would make the finest lumber wagon. Tom decided he wanted that prize. Mike also wanted it more than anything else. Tom had a star workman by the name of Frank Werntz. Mike had another star by the name of Charlie Steen. The battle began in May and lasted until fair time in September.

In both shops every idle moment of the old crows was employed on those wagons. Toward the last the work went on through the night into the early morning hours fitting the iron work, polishing the woodwork and finishing up the fancy touches. Both wagons were finished in oil, the finest materials available were used in those wagons. It was a labor of love and every man who had a hand was fighting for the glory of his shop. The day came when the prize was to be given. That was the moment those men had so long worked for. The judges examined every bit of iron, every spoke, every nut and bolt, then went into consultation. There were three judges; I forgot their names. When they came out the vote was two for Tom Barry and one for Mike. Tom, my oldest brother, carried off the honors. The prize wagon went to J. Lowenstine and given away with a handsome span of cream colored horses.

I have been a master blacksmith for more than fifty years. I laid down my hammer and took off my apron about fifteen years ago. I worked for my brother Tom about 12 years, when I started a shop of my own on Main street, in the building now occupied by The Vidette-Messenger. Among the men who worked for me was Henry LaTour. I continued along for about 30 years when I entered into partnership with James Griswold, a master blacksmith. This partnership continued for a period of more than 22 years. By that time the automobile had done plenty to the blacksmith business. The business got so slack that we were only putting on 1 or 2 shoes a day instead of 100 to 150 as we did in the old days. So I closed the shop in the year about 1919. Mr. Griswold went to Gary and took a position as a steel treater at the Illinois Steel Company where he remained for 12 1/2 years when he was retired on account of old age and given one year pension.

The shop on the corner of Indiana avenue and Lafayette street is to the best of my knowledge the oldest blacksmith shop in Porter county. I has been continually used as a blacksmith shop until this day and still is a prosperous business.

When my brother Tom came from Ireland I was not yet born, and I never saw him until I came to Valparaiso. I do not know the exact year that he came here but he must have come either in the late 1840's or early 1850's. He first worked in the shop of Jackson Buel which was then located on Washington street, near the old Academy of Music. He also worked for Jake Brewer, who had a blacksmith shop on the southwest corner of Lafayette street and Lincolnway.

The job was one that required a stout back and strong arm, and the Lord blessed me with both. When I look back over the years I find many happy days in that work. I am now past 83 years old. I am enjoying the quiet of the evening of my life. My riches consist principally in the wealth of friendships I have made. I bid you all good day.

This is Jim Griswold talking. Siftings has asked me to tell my story. I have heard Dave's, so here goes mine:

I was born in Port Clinton, O., on February 17, 1855. My father watched the lighthouse on Lake Erie. He also was a blacksmith, working in a shop close to the lighthouse. I began learning my trade under my father, Abraham Griswold, when I was twelve years old and I was so small that I had to stand on a box to use a sledge on the anvil when I began to work. I worked under my father until I was twenty-three years old. My parents moved to Michigan and then to Momence, Ill., and we were there when a man named Bradley, who had taken over the old Ed. Cook's Blacksmith shop, now located on the corner of Indiana avenue and Franklin street, wanted me to come to Valparaiso to work for him, which I did.

That was on the first day of April, 1879. I worked for him about six months, when I went to work for Andy Wanager on Main street, which was located between the old John LePell Furniture shop and George Babcock's Agricultural Implement shop, a site now occupied by the Sievers Drug store. I worked there about two years when I came over to Louie Raymond's, across the street on Lincolnway. I remained with him for two years when I went in partnership with Henry LaTour in the old Tom Barry shop. This partnership lasted three years, when I joined forces with Dave Barry. This partnership lasted twenty-two years and ended when Dave retired and I went over to Illinois Steel Company at Gary.

I laid down my hammer and took off my apron for the last time in the steel treating shop of the steel company on Broadway in Gary. Since that time I have been reporting regularly at the Elks club rooms where I have a special cushion for my chair. I spend my days playing rum and gassing with my old pals. When I lack partners I play a game of solitaire.

Valparaiso has been pretty good to me. I gave it better than fifty of the best years of my life. I will be eighty years old on the seventeenth day of February. I quit work when I was seventy-six years old; I felt I could do a good day's work then but the bosses called me in one day and said: "Jim, your work is alright but you have crossed the age limit."

Well, folks, that is my story.

This is Henry LaTour talking. Siftings has asked me to tell my story. Dave has made my introductory speech. Mr. Siftings asked me to tell my story of what blacksmithing did to and for me.

Well, like David, I will begin at the beginning. I was born in St. Jerome, Canada, on June 1, 1864. I learned the blacksmith's trade under my father's instructions. I was practically raised in my father's shop, and I think I began actual apprenticeship when I was between 12 and 15 years old. I worked for father until I was 18 years old when I came to Valparaiso on March 18, 1882. I began working for Tom Barry in the shop I am now running. Then I went to work for Dave Barry, and when he got done with me I was considered a full fledged blacksmith. I have been actively engaged as a blacksmith both as a master workman and a proprietor of a shop from that time to this. I have with me my son, who is so far as I am able to learn the youngest master blacksmith in this region. Our business at this time includes not only the local work of Valparaiso and Porter county but also have special days in which we go to LaPorte, Crown Point, and Momence, Ill., where we do horse shoeing for the track and saddle horses as well as for the ordinary work animals. The business of today is not what it was when I first began with my friend Barry, as the automobile has worked a revolution and it seems that the old picture of the Village Smithy that Longfellow so beautifully told about is soon to become a memory. We seem to be like the Aborigines, the last survivors of a vanished trade..

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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