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- Local Blacksmiths
The blacksmith was an important tradesman in local communities in early America. In an era when manufactured metal goods were expensive or unavailable he fashioned handmade metal objects, such as hinges and nails, customized premade horseshoe blanks to fit a particular horse or mule, and sharpened and repaired implements used in business and on farms. Many times the blacksmith would be, in addition to a metalworker, a farrier (shoeing horses and mules) and potentially a wheelwright as well (making and repairing wagon wheels.) The blacksmith might have been a farmer who met his own needs for metalwork and also those of his neighbors, or he might have had a shop in a town serving the broader community.
In this article we look back at a few of the many blacksmiths who served Norcross in the early days of the town.
Norcross was chartered by John Thrasher in 1870, and the town was bustling by the time of an article appearing in 1874 in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. It reported that, in addition to several churches and a school, there were
Seven stores, and not a single liquor shop in the place; … two blacksmiths; two wood shops and a furniture manufacture; [and] a large brickyard in full blast.
The names of the two blacksmiths were not given in the 1874 article, but census and other historical records indicate that there were several in Norcross and the surrounding area at that time. Here are a few of the local citizens who provided services to local citizens:
Hiram Dean and his wife Sara Hudson Dean came to North Georgia from South Carolina in the 1840s, accompanying her father when the father was called to preach at a church in Cumming. Mr. Hudson moved back to South Carolina after a few years, but the Deans stayed. They lived in DeKalb County in the 1850 census, and then in 1860 were in the Pinckneyville district in Gwinnett (where Norcross would be created a few years later). In the 1870s he owned property on North Peachtree Street and elsewhere in the area. In addition to working as a blacksmith, Dean was the postmaster at Stone Mountain for a time, and was a farmer, brandy-maker and building contractor - in 1877 he built a small building in the Norcross city park (now known as Thrasher Park), that was used to hold local court sessions during our town’s early days.
Hiram Dean is shown in the photo below.
Glover was born in Georgia in 1838 and was raised in Milton and Cherokee counties. He enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861 and served for the four-year duration of the war, spending the last year as a prisoner of war. He was living in Norcross at the time of the 1880 census, and had owned farmland in the area east of town (just past where I85 passes today) for some time. He was a business partner with early Norcross merchant Nathan Arendall, but in the 1880s he decided to move with his family to Texas, where he died in 1888, at the age of 50.
But James Glover did leave a legacy in Georgia that lived on for over half a century – The Glover School. This school, built on land donated by Glover in 1872, was near the intersection of today’s Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Norcross-Tucker Roads. It provided a basic education of children from the farm families in the area at a time when there were few other educational alternatives. The community pitched in to construct a building on the property, and Glover School was used for the next 60 years.
The photo below shows the school with its students during the early 1900s.
The photo below shows four young men prepared to celebrate graduation from the ninth grade at the school circa 1921.
Joshua W. Terrell and his descendants
Terrell and his family moved to the Norcross area around the time the town was founded, and he and the next two generations of Terrells provided blacksmith services to Norcross and the area.
Joshua Terrell had a shop located on the Peachtree Road near Thrasher Park, but his son William Jasper Terrell pursued the trade from shops on Skin Alley and then later on Wingo Street. William Jasper Terrell and his wife Harriett Ellen Key Terrell had nine children who lived to adulthood, and all of the sons learned the trade, with sons Ira, Losco (“Los”) and Garland pursuing it as a career.
David Youngblood recalled a story about Ira Terrell that he heard from his father, Henry Youngblood Jr.:
As a young man Henry had worked on the construction of the Buford Highway (circa 1935- 1937). He was a member of a crew preparing the roadbed north of Norcross, near Mt. Tabor church, and they had hit a patch of ground that was very rocky, and this was quickly causing the drill bits they were using to become dull. Most of the men on the crew were from other parts of Georgia and were not familiar with the Norcross area, so they asked Henry, who grew up nearby, if he knew of blacksmiths in the area who might be able to sharpen the bits. Henry suggested that Ira Terrell, who had a shop in town, did that type of work, and he was dispatched to bring him to the worksite. When Henry got to the blacksmith’s shop he explained the problem to Terrell, who readily agreed to come out to the site to see if he could be of assistance. But he added to the young man “When we get there I want you to introduce me to the crew chief, but at that point you should stay quiet, and let me handle it from there.”
When they arrived Henry did as requested, and the crew chief explained the problem. Terrell took a long look at the bits, and then walked around the site for a time to examine it, stopping at several points to pick up a handful of the red clay and examine it, smell it and apply a little to his tongue, seeming to test its qualities. After going through this process he turned to the crew chief and announced that yes, he should be able to do the work, and they agreed on a price and timeframe. Terrell also added that he would need Henry to help him, and soon the two men were headed back to the shop with the drill bits.
As they were walking back Henry asked the older man what he had learned from examining the soil the way he had, and Terrell told him “Nothing. I knew I could do the job when I got there and saw the bits. But I wanted to make sure that they were thinking this might be a difficult job, and that I was an expert in this type of thing – that way I was able to charge them a little more!”
The photo below shows Ira’s brothers Los and Garland shoeing a horse that belonged to the Letson family of Norcross.
Note that one brother holds the horse in place while the other brother has lifted the back foot of the animal so that he can perform the task at hand. Shoeing a horse or mule is a multi-step process, and the farrier has to be careful not to startle the animal and thereby risk being kicked and injured. The Wikihow website lists the steps in shoeing an animal in detail – here is a summary:
Part 1 - Preparing the Foot for Shoeing
1. Lift the foot.
2. Remove any shoe that is already on the animal's feet (this requires breaking the nail clinches – i.e. straightening the bent tips of each nail that holds the shoe on – so the shoe can then be pulled off.)
3. Clean the bottom of the hoof.
4. Use a hoof knife to remove excess, flaky sole from the bottom of the hoof.
5. Trim excess hoof wall with hoof nippers.
6. Use a rasp to flatten and level the sole.
Part 2 – Attaching the New Shoe
1. Make a shoe, or choose an appropriate blank shoe, that is sized to the animal’s hoof (the front and hind feet are differently-shaped, and many times are different in size)
2. Make custom adjustments to the shape of the shoe (using a hammer and anvil, or a grinder, or by heating the metal and bending it) and punch holes in the shoe for the nails if needed.
3. Secure the shoe in its place by driving in nails.
4. Bend and remove the nail tips as needed (these tips will protrude from the upper part of the horse’s hoof after step 3.)
5. Clinch (cap off and secure) the nails (using a hammer and clinch block, or a special tool called a clincher.)
6. File down any rough spots on the hoof wall, and remove any excess protruding hoof material.
Baseball was a favorite pastime for many young men in the Norcross area in the early 1900s, and the Terrells were no exception. A Terrell family history notes that:
The Terrell sons were deeply involved in the Norcross town baseball teams for several years. One of the standing boasts was “didn’t win all the games, but won all the fights.”
Fires were a constant threat to buildings in the early 20 th century, and they struck the Terrell family at least twice. The Gwinnett Journal newspaper reported in May 1923:
Terrell’s shop burned down last night between 10 and 11 o’clock in rather close proximity to residences, planning mill and lumber yards, nothing … however burned owing to a favorable wind which, however, blew towards Dr. Tom McDaniel’s’ residence way across the railroad from the burning building, which is said to have caught from sparks. No damage there.
The Terrell shop referenced in the article was at 120 Wingo Street at the time (the property is now occupied by a more modern building), while the home occupied by Tom and Dixie McDaniel at the time is still standing, across the railroad at 60 Buchanan Street.
W J Terrell passed away in 1913, and members of the Terrell family moved to a home on today’s Summerour Street, close to its intersection with Buford Highway. But in March 1944 that residence burned to the ground, with tragic results, as was reported in the Atlanta Constitution:
Mrs. Harriett Ellen Terrell, 83, pioneer resident of Norcross, was burned to death here today when fire destroyed the home of her daughter Miss May Terrell. Mrs. Terrell, deaf and partially blind, was alone in the house at the time of the fire, which evidently started from an open grate.
Herschel Stevens, engineer on the Southern railroad, and neighbor of the Terrells, entered the house and fought his way through the smoke to where her body lay, but was driven back by flames.
The daughter is secretary to an Atlanta firm in the Red Rock building, and was at work at the time of the fire.
John Alfred Adams (1880-1941) and his wife Amanda (1880-1949) married at the age of 16 in 1896 and came to Norcross a short time later, to farm and open a blacksmith shop on Skin Alley. Their children (including sons Noah, Worley and John and daughters Winnie Mae, Carrie Lou and Gladys) and members of the following generations have been residents of the area ever since. The photo below shows the family circa 1908, with the four children who had been born at that point.
John Adams was the son of Elijah and Caroline Adams. His father died when he was five years old and his mother Caroline then married George Whitley. However, according to family tradition, she killed Whitley with a blast from a shotgun before the marriage had lasted very long. Her third marriage, to George Turner, lasted ten years, at which point Mr. Turner died of natural causes (as far as is known.)
Note: The shotgun supposedly involved in the incident became an Adams family heirloom, and the photo below shows the Adams’ son (also named John Adams) holding the gun.
John Alfred Adams operated a blacksmith shop from around 1900 to 1919 on Skin Alley, and then moved to a shop he had constructed on College Street. He later opened a shop in Chamblee as well, and was available in both Norcross and Chamblee three days per week in the later period of his career as a smith.
In those days moonshine production was common in the Norcross area, and all of North Georgia. Stills were usually constructed in the wooded areas (common in the area then), where they could be hidden from view. However, Adams’ two older sons came up with a different plan for making the desirable liquid on the sly – they devised a still for making moonshine that could be quickly set up in the interior of their father’s Norcross blacksmith shop, and they used the device to make corn whiskey on the days John Adams was in Chamblee. At the end of the day they would break it down and hide away the pieces. They felt that if a passerby saw smoke coming from the chimney of the shop, it would not cause any concern, since smoke was to be expected from the metalworking operations.
Henry Youngblood Sr.
The Youngblood family has lived in Gwinnett since the earliest of days of the county - Hardaway Youngblood was born in South Carolina in 1819 and moved with his parents to Gwinnett a few years later. (He is shown in the photo below, which was taken shortly before his death in 1899.)
Hardaway Youngblood learned the skills of a blacksmith on the frontier, and passed these down to the following generations, including to his great grandson Henry Youngblood, who had a farm just outside Norcross, near today’s intersection of Old Norcross Road and Ingram Drive.
Henry’s grandson David Youngblood remembers that his grandfather provided blacksmith services for his neighbors, repairing metal objects as needed, and that he also found other ways to support his family in an era when cash was hard to come by. These included hauling coal from the coal yard near the Norcross depot to customers, and tending to the furnaces in the school buildings in Norcross at evening events there during the winter.
John Adams, writing in the book Norcross, told that when he was a youngster a number of farmers in the area would come to town to sell produce during the harvest season, and said:
One farmer we always looked forward to seeing was Henry Youngblood. He was a great producer of watermelons, and you could buy the biggest melon he had on the wagon for ten cents. Children always greeted Henry warmly when he appeared on the street with his wagon.
The photo below shows Henry Youngblood with his wife Julia Lawson Youngblood and their two children (at that time), circa 1920.
Christopher Columbus (“Lum”) Howell was born in Duluth on March 12, 1879 (or 1880, or 1882, depending on the source you are using). He moved to Norcross when a young man, and ran a blacksmith shop on Skin Alley well into the 1950s. He is shown in the photo below wielding the hammer at the anvil.
Lum married Jeanette Nesbit in 1928. She was the daughter of Perry and Lovey Nesbit, who were born enslaved and achieved success through their hard work after the Civil War. Jeanette is shown in the photo below with their two daughters, Bernice and Clara (“Beau”).
The Howell family lived in a home on property bounded by West Peachtree Street, Autry Street and Lake Drive. (This property was developed in recent years as the Lum Howell Station subdivision.)
Several people who grew up in Norcross in the 1950s had vivid memories many years later of encounters as youngsters with Lum Howell, his work and his shop.
Carl Garner Jr. remembered sitting in Lum’s shop, fascinated by the sights, sounds and smells emanating therefrom. There was the large bellows that propelled a stream of air over the blacksmith’s working fire (resulting in increased heat, making it easier to heat the metal that needed to be forged.) There was the clang of the hammer striking metal on the anvil, and the smell of the hot shoe (which the blacksmith had heated to shape from a “blank” to fit the horse) when it singed the horse’s hoof as it was being attached.
Carl’s cousin Richard recalled that he and his cousin both had their horses shoed in Lum’s shop, and that Lum charged $2.50 to shoe Richard’s horse, while he charged Carl $5.00. This was because Carl’s horse was more skittish and temperamental, and took a good bit longer to shoe. Richard remembers that Lum had a special device that he called a “nose-twister” that he put on Carl’s horse to make it easier to control.
Clifford Jones Jr. recalled walking by an out-of-service locomotive on a side track at the depot in downtown Norcross one day in his youth and encountering Lum Howell there. The blacksmith was evidently working on a repair of some type on the engine for the railroad, and he asked the boy if he would like to climb aboard and see the engineer’s controls that ran the train. Jones readily agreed, and Lum spent some time showing the boy the ins and outs of the throttles and gauges that the engineers used on a daily basis.
Walter Freeman recalled the shop, a utilitarian building on Skin Alley, a few doors down from the back entrance to the Masonic Lodge. It had a doorway on the alley, and no windows on the other walls, making it dim inside, lit internally only by the glowing coals used to heat the metal that Howell was working on at the moment. Walter also remembers the distinctive smell of the coal fire that burned there – a smell that used to be much more common, when coal was used to heat homes.