A new Museum of the Albemarle exhibit pays homage to an occupation that played a key role in the history of northeastern North Carolina.
Titled “Wheelwrights, Wagon Wranglers and Welders: Blacksmiths of the Albemarle,” the exhibit opened in the museum lobby on Friday.
“Every farming community had (a blacksmith). The shops were at every crossroads, just like filling stations today,” according to Emmett Jones Sr., a wheelwright and blacksmith who is quoted in an exhibit display.
From the time the first English colonists arrived on Roanoke Island to the early 20th century, blacksmiths provided essential services, particularly for the area’s agriculture industry, according to display literature.
“Before the advent of assembly lines and mass production, smithies forged so many of the everyday necessities for the communities they served; everything from ax heads to horseshoes were hand-crafted in their shops,” the display states.
Around 1896, one local shop that was providing those services was the Miles Jennings Blacksmith Shop. A group photo of Jennings’ employees outside the shop with information is part of the exhibit.
A portrait photo from around 1880 shows Alex Anderson, a blacksmith and horseshoer whose shop was located at Matthews and Martin streets, better known as present-day Colonial Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
One blacksmithing tool on display is a model Champion 400 geared blower, a large device that created gusts of air that the blacksmith would use to heat and keep the fire in the shop forge burning.
Another item on display is a massive cone mandrel that was used in Camden County. Blacksmiths used the mandrel to shape different size circular items, like hoops and rings.
The exhibit also features a collection of hand tools, such as tongs, farrier’s nippers, ball peen hammers and more.
Museum of the Albemarle is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on weekends.