After we talked a bit he said he was a city councilman in the City of Independence, Cuyahoga Co. He asked if I might be interested in a blacksmith shop that the town owned in the center of town. The councilman went on to say that Independence was going to tear the building down that March because it simply was no longer needed and the upkeep was no longer manageable. The city had bought the property from the family of the original owner, and it was time to clear the land.
I didn’t recall having ever seeing the building, which he described as a barn, despite having countless times driven past where it stood while on my way to Cleveland or to go to a movie with friends. (Years ago, before the current fashion of cineplex’s, the Willow Theater was the only indoor movie house in 20 miles. It still stands close by to the blacksmith shop’s original location.) I got the directions to go take a look, and off I went the next day.
I drove up to town, about 17 miles, and took a look. It turned out to be the biggest building (so far) that I might attempt to move. It was 40×20 and a full two stories tall. All the windows were boarded up and the doors were locked so I decided to find someone who could open it for me. I saw a city truck drive by so I chased it down and asked where the new Town Hall was. Turned out I didn’t need directions, the driver had the key.
We went. We opened. We looked. And there it was. In all its former glory. The last owner had quit the business, locked the door, and left most everything behind. I couldn’t believe it. There were all sorts of of blacksmithing tools, wagon and wagon wheel repair equipment, and a number of early car repair tools. It turned out to have been a transition business operating at the end of the buggy age/start of the automobile age. What a find.
A couple months later, after a fair number of city council meetings, paper signings required by lawyers, and the payment of $1.00, the building was mine. Two hours later, the tools were safely home and we were on our way to another disassembly.
It was a somewhat tough winter that year, so I had to shovel a foot of snow off the roof as I started to remove the 5 layers of asphalt shingles and one layer of wood shakes (really don’t know how the building stood for so long with all that weight). When I took breaks from being on the roof I cleared out the interior. Some walls had been added at some point to divide the upstairs, and an early type of insulating drywall board had been hung here and there. And of course there was a certain amount of coal and coal dust to remove. Dirty, dirty job.
That’s when I got really lucky. I pulled apart a a long work bench and threw the parts out a window. Later when I went outside and could see better, one of the boards ( rather big board actually -14’x2′) I was just barely able to make out writing on it. I loaded it up at the end of the day and took it home and scrubbed it down with a garden hose and horse brush to remove all the coal dust. It was the original shop sign “Hamburg Horshshoeing & Jobbing”. It had been taken down and used as a lower shelf for the work bench. It was complete and fully readable, a most unusual find. Wooden signs from a century ago rarely survive. They get tossed and rot, or become firewood. It was a lucky day for the museum.
…more to follow.