Keeping the Spark Alive: Historical Society Highlights Rich Metalworking History in West Maryland | WDVM25 and DCW50


THUMONT, Maryland (WDVM) – Western Maryland has a rich history of metalworking and a local historical society preserves that history and keeps the spark alive.

Before there were mass-produced iron items, blacksmiths stood above the smithy, and the Maryland Iron Festival took guests back in time to experience history. The annual festival, which took place on Saturdays and Sundays, opened the doors to the 1770s, when the Johnson brothers first built and lit the Catoctin Oven. According to the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, the furnace was first lit in 1776 and was turned off in 1903.

Stephen Dill is a local blacksmith in Frederick, Maryland, and demonstrated blacksmithing techniques to festival-goers. He says blacksmiths were the first recyclers, reusing old metal or scrap metal to make new parts or tools.

“At the time, we weren’t importing all of our tools from China. We had to make them here, ”Dill explained. “They made the tools that moved life forward. Each village was to have a blacksmith. Every farmer needed a blacksmith, or he himself had the skills to keep his tools sharp, his plows working. “

The Catoctin Furnace Historical Society strives to educate visitors about each role in historical iron production with its annual festival as well as its Ironworker Museum. The museum also has facial reconstruction models of two enslaved African Americans who were buried and then exhumed for research purposes, from what is believed to be the most comprehensive African American cemetery linked to the first industry in the United States according to the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society. .

Elizabeth Comer, president of the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, said the Catoctin Furnace was the “heart of the industrial revolution”.

“The Catoctin furnace was truly the epicenter of the iron industry,” explains Comer. “It was especially important because it was a skill that was brought to the United States by enslaved Africans and so we’re telling that story here.”

Vicki Barrett was one of the few metallurgists when she started almost 35 years ago. Now, the retired artist looks forward to seeing the next generation of artists embrace the craft.

“I think it’s unappreciated, or not as appreciated as it should be for how long this type of craft or art has been used for a living,” Barrett said. “I like to see more and more young women getting into this job because it’s wonderful to do these things.”

The Maryland Iron Festival was previously known as Spring in the Village, Art at the Furnace before changing its name in 2019.

For more information on the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, please visit their website.

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