Iron Works – Blacksmith Shop
The Cambria Iron Lower Works was first developed in 1848 by Daniel J. Morrell as part of the Cambria Iron Company. At the height of the steel industry in Johnstown, mills covered more than 13 miles along the Conemaugh, Little Conemaugh, and Stonycreek Rivers. These mills created rails and continued to operated as a model for the steel industry even as late as the 1980s, when the industry was faced with tough overseas competition. The effect on Johnstown was evident, as the town saw its population drop from over 60,000 to its current day total of just over 20,000. The mills began closing in the early 1990’s, and over 12,000 were out of a job. This town went from producing around 2,000,000 tons of steel per year, to today’s level of zero.
The oldest surviving building of the Cambria Iron Works, is the Blacksmith Shop which was built in 1864. The Blacksmith Shop is the most historically significant of the structures, and produced a wide range of metal products into the 20th century. Since 1992, the Blacksmith Shop has sat vacant.
The Blacksmith Shop is a large brick structure that was constructed in at least five stages. The original building is octagonal in shape. Later, in the 1870s, a rectangular wing was added to the west end, and in 1885 an additional wing was added on the east. It still houses plenty of original turn-of-the-century tools, including a ten-ton steam hammer owned by the Smithsonian Institute.
A quick look at the timeline:
1864: The Cambria Iron Works builds the Blacksmith Shop to supply parts to the iron and steel mills, and become the nation’s largest producers of rail.
1889: The South Fork Dam collapses, and the Johnstown Flood kills more than 2,000 people and destroys most of the city.
1923: Bethlehem Steel buys most of the remaining Cambria Iron Complex, continues to operate, and builds additions to the Blacksmith Shop building.
1992: Bethlehem Steel closes the doors, and shuts down their operations in Johnstown. They then begin to demolish the historic 19th-century buildings, due to economic reasons.
The Blacksmith Shop Today
The Johnstown Redevelopment Authority is hoping to breathe new life into the shop. The Blacksmith Shop is the cornerstone in an interpretive visitor development plan. The plans anticipate that the Blacksmith Shop will be the center of a visitor infrastructure where working artisans will perform their craft to give tourists a firsthand look at the art of blacksmithing and Johnstown’s steelmaking heritage – not simply a museum, but a working blacksmith shop.
More information can be found at The Johnstown Redevelopment Authority website.