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

THURMONT, Md. (WDVM) – Western Maryland has a rich history of metalworking, and a local historical society is preserving that history and keeping the spark alive.

Before there were mass-produced iron ware, there were blacksmiths standing above the forge, and the Maryland Iron Festival allowed guests to step back in time to experience the ‘story. The annual festival, held on Saturday and Sunday, ushered in the 1770s when the Johnson brothers first built and lit the Catoctin kiln. According to the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, the furnace was first lit in 1776 and blown out in 1903.

Stephen Dill is a local blacksmith in Frederick, Maryland, and was demonstrating blacksmithing techniques for 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 didn’t import all of our tools from China. We had to make them here,” Dill explained. “They made the tools that moved life forward. Each village had to have a blacksmith. Every farmer needed a blacksmith, or he made his own skills to keep his tools sharp, his plows in working order.

The Catoctin Furnace Historical Society strives to educate visitors about all the roles of historic iron production with their annual festival as well as their Ironworker’s Museum. The museum also has facially reconstructed models of two enslaved African Americans who were buried, then exhumed for research, from what is believed to be the most comprehensive African American cemetery linked to the early industry in the States. 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 really the epicenter of the iron industry,” says Comer. “It was particularly important because it was a skill that was brought to the United States by enslaved Africans and so we tell that story here.”

Vicki Barrett was one of the few female steelworkers when she started nearly 35 years ago. Now, the retired artist looks forward to seeing the next generation of artists take up the craft.

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

The Maryland Iron Festival was formerly 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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