The word blacksmith comes from two words “black” and “smite.” Iron is black and it can be pounded or smitten into various shapes, thus the name blacksmith. When iron is forged or heated it can be hammered into tools and other useful objects. In the early days of our country blacksmiths made plows, hoes, rakes, hoops for barrels, candleholders and lanterns for lighting, pots and pans for cooking over open fireplaces and other useful items.
Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee was known as a Frontier Industrial Village. Long before the Civil War Pennsylvania native Montgomery Bell came to the area and became Tennessee’s greatest iron-master. In 1812 he contracted with the government to furnish gunpowder, whiskey and cannon balls for the Battle of New Orleans. Today, the once bustling place with its large ore iron furnace is a sleepy little village with very few signs of its prosperous days. The furnace was torn down and sold for scrap in the 1940s.
My Grandfather James (Jim) Rector’s blacksmith shop was on a corner of that little village where he served as the smithy for almost fifty years. Through the years as I visited my grandparents, the blacksmith shop was a favorite place for me. To see the fire burning in the forge and hear the hammer on the anvil and the artistry with which “Granddad” worked was a fascinating sight to see. He kept the farmers tools in shape, shoed the horses and repaired miscellaneous items such as pots and pans. Activity was lively around the shop with farmers and townspeople bringing horses to be shod or equipment that needed mending. No one seemed to mind waiting, they sat or stood around discussing the weather, news and sometimes politics. If work “slackened” and he was not rushed he sometimes let us turn the bellows to keep the forge hot or hand him nails as he shoed a horse. Most of the children had iron hoops taken from barrels and we rolled them along with looped metal sticks to guide them. Sometimes if they got bent or broken Granddad mended them.
Granddad Rector’s blacksmith shop almost in ruins is standing still, marked by an historical plaque dedicated to his long service there.
The two years (1927-28) that my grandfather was away from Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee were spent working as a blacksmith in Livermore, Kentucky but I have been unable to find any record of his work there. Mable, one of two surviving children was five or six years old at the time and she remembers that her father worked in a blacksmith shop, that the family lived next door to a family named Durham and that it was “uphill to get to the stores in town.” Also that her youngest brother was born while they lived there. He was named Alan Johnson Rector for Livermore’s beloved Dr. Johnson who delivered him and his birth date August 19, 1928 is documented.
“Blacksmiths in McLean County” is one of the history subjects that the museum is researching. We have the following names: Douglas Little, George J. Hatcher, Isaac Fowler, James Clemons, James Wilson, Thomas O’Conner, Vardiman G. Wilhite, Jesse H. Jackson, John W. Moore, Benjamin F. Quigg, James Stephens, William D. Graham, John P. Ellison, Willis Whitaker, Jacob F. Shull, Lando Moore, Carl Hudson, Lon Rickard, Hugh Lynn, Wallace Lynn, Sam McCoy, Albert Kirtley and Ben Allen Johnson.
There may be others that we have not listed. If you have information on any of McLean County’s blacksmiths or pictures and blacksmith memorabilia that you can donate to the museum we would be pleased to have it. And if you find information on my Grandfather James (Jim) Rector’s work in Livermore it would make me very happy.