America’s Oldest Forge

By: Jay D. Taylor

Forge Hallmark

Wendell August Forge Hallmark

In 1923, Wendell August, who was working in the coal industry, needed latches for the doors on his Brockway, Pennsylvania home.[1] He sought out the help of Ottone “Tony” Pisoni, who was a blacksmith at August’s coal mine.[2] After seeing artistic quality of Pisoni’s work, August got the idea to start a decorative ironware business.[3]   Pisoni and three other blacksmiths created railings, window grilles, doorknockers, candlesticks, and fireplace andirons.[4] They continued working with iron until a contract from the Aluminum Company of America sent them down a path they would follow for over 80 years.

 

Aluminum pieces

Examples of Decorative Aluminium Pieces

The Aluminum Company of America was looking for new uses for aluminum, and by winning their contract for designing decorative aluminum gates and elevator doors, Wendell August Forge moved into the decorative aluminum business.[5] Wendell August Forge began by making many of the same style products they had previously made, such as gates and railings, and they even night deposit boxes for banks. There was one difference though—Wendell August would have the scraps from these projects used to make decorative gifts for whoever he was working for.[6] It was here that the current focus of Wendell August Forge began.

The company moved to Grove City, Pennsylvania in 1932, after a successful commission for one of Grove City’s bank.[7] Wendell August Forge has remained in Grove City ever since. Wendell August continues to make their products using their original eight-step process,[8] but their medium has expanded to include bronze, silver, and pewter as well as aluminum. All of their products are hand-made one at a time, insuring that no two items are identical. Their expert die engravers, who still use a hammer and chisel to craft their dies.[9] Wendell August Forge was listed on the National Register for Historic Places, until it met with tragedy in 2010.

Fire

The Fire that Consumed the Historic Forge.

It took only about an hour for flames to consume the forge.[10] A fire in March of 2010 destroyed the historic building, but luckily their dies survived the crucible.[11] The fire didn’t stop the Wendell August Forge, and their operations continued through their other sites while a new flagship location was built. It took over three years, but a new building was finally built in Grove City, and the company has been refined in the fires of misfortune.[12]

Hindenburg

Hindenburg “Millionaire’s Flight” Ashtray

Throughout its operation, Wendell August Forge has crafted some extremely notable pieces. In 1936, the Hindenburg took some of the wealthiest people in the world on a “Millionaire’s Flight.”[13] Ashtrays decorated with a glass Hindenburg replica made by Wendell August were given to the passengers of this flight.[14] Other notable pieces include 12 solid bronze plates which commemorated the SALT II treaty between the United States and the former Soviet Union, turtle shaped towel basins for the Rockefellers, commemorative tickets for the Pittsburgh Penguin’s last regular season game at Mellon Arena, as well as pieces for Coca-Cola and Walt Disney.[15]

As someone who grew up in Grove City, Wendell August Forge has a cultural significance to me and the other people who live the area. It ingrained in the culture. It would be difficult to find a home in Grove City that doesn’t have at least one piece made by Wendell August. The decorative aluminum works of art created by Wendell August are a ‘go-to’ gift for graduations, weddings, and other important events. Every year Wendell August comes out with a new Christmas ornament, which will undoubtedly end up in many households.

Even though the original building listed on the National Register is gone, the history itself still remains and is perpetuated by Wendell August Forge, and the communities nearby. Their history lives on through the workers at the forge, because they keep it alive by making pieces by hand, one at a time. Their history also lives on because of a community who values a product made the same way it always was—and the way it will continue to be made.

[1] “History, Heritage, and Tradition,” Wendell August Forge, https://www.wendellaugust.com/page/history.

[2] Benjamin Liebling, “Doing Things the Old-Fashioned Way: Wendell August Forge,” http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/WAForge.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] “History, Heritage, and Tradition.”

[5] “Company History,” https://www.wendellwholesale.com/files/WAF%20Company%20History%20020112.pdf

[6] Jeremiah G. Blaylock, prod., “The Wendell August Forge Story” Case Reserve Public Media, 2002, http://westernreservepublicmedia.org/vodshows/wendellv.htm.

[7] “History, Heritage, and Tradition.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] “The Wendell August Forge Story”

[10] Moriah Balingit, “Historic Wendell August forge burns to ground,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 7, 2010, http://www.post-gazette.com/local/north/2010/03/07/Historic-Wendell-August-forge-burns-to-ground/stories/201003070228.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Dave Crawley, “Wendell August Forge Officially Opens New Factory & Flagship Store,” KDKA Pittsburgh, October 29, 2013, http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2013/10/29/wendell-august-forge-officially-opens-new-factory-flagship-store.

[13] “Old-Fashioned Way”

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Company History.”

All images courtesy of Creative Commons Wendell August Forge Photos by Michael Shang and Seth Thomasmeyer is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0

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The Allegheny Arsenal Explosion: A Forgotten Tragedy

By: Emily Masters

Overshadowed by some 20,000 casualties at the Battle of Antietam[1], the victims of the Allegheny Arsenal explosion are seldom remembered today. Though 78 lives lost may pale in comparison to the death toll in Sharpsburg that day, September 17th 1862 was the bloodiest day of the Civil War for soldiers and civilians alike. While the human sacrifice at Antietam is memorialized in monuments and sacred grounds that are visited and remembered every day, the site of the arsenal explosion is home to a pharmacy, an industrial park, and a neighborhood baseball field[2]. Unless you’re paying close attention, you could stroll through the site and never know what happened there 150 years ago. Almost entirely women and children, the sacrifice of the explosion’s victim have been largely left out of the grand narrative of the American Civil War.

The cause of the explosion has never been irrefutably confirmed but most sources agree that a horse pulling a delivery of black powder stamped its hoof down on the road newly covered in macadam causing a spark that ignited the powder on the streets.[3] The sparked carried to the powder kegs resulting in the explosion of the laboratory, which was full of women and young girls filling cartridges and canon shells. The same women and children who had assembled the ammunition that was being shot at rebel soldiers at Antietam on the very same day. Newspapers in the days following relayed reports from the front lines of battle at Antietam and Harper’s Ferry in detail, citing the names of officers killed in action and progress of ongoing skirmishes taking place around the country. [4] Most media coverage of the arsenal explosion was limited to a single paragraph and in some cases a single sentence.

“A terrible explosion occurred at the U.S. Arsenal at allegheny City on Wednesday afternoon, resulting in the death of between 75 and 100 people.” The Chicago Times[5] 

Local media coverage of the explosion held more detail and sentiment for the lives that were lost.[6] However, in the years following and up to present day, most accounts of that tragic event focus on the specifics. What blew up first? Who was in charge? Who was to blame? There are horribly detailed accounts of bodies charred and ripped apart and of the families struggling to identify their loved ones in the aftermath of the explosion[7]. It is difficult to discover stories about the victims themselves. They are identified collectively as mostly women and girls of poor working class families. A list of the names marks the mass grave in which the unidentified victims’ bodies were buried in Allegheny Cemetery[8]. The story of their lives however, has faded with the passing of those that remembered them. The story of the explosion itself has similarly faded from public consciousness. Few people today even know about Allegheny Arsenal explosion. Even the plaque erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission outside the site professes the importance of the arsenal in multiple wars but says nothing of the Civil War’s greatest civilian tragedy.[9]

Events such as the Allegheny Arsenal Explosion call into question the ways in which our nation remembers its history and how the topics worth remembering change with the passage of time. Though undeniably tragic, the explosion did not have much of a national effect. The arsenal resumed production shortly after. Is this why we don’t remember and learn about it today? Does the lack of national impact lessen the significance of the event? Perhaps on a national scale it does, but even at a local level the arsenal explosion has largely slipped from memory. Students learning about the Civil War all over the United States know that the Battle of Antietam resulted in the largest number of casualties suffered in any single day of the war but there are people playing baseball on the site of the greatest civilian tragedy without even realizing it.

Emily

[1] “Casualties of Battle,” National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/anti/historyculture/casualties.htm

[2] “Pittsburgh History: Tragedy at the Allegheny Arsenal” (Video), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Jan 27, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybFjlH7JMuw

[3] Charles McCollester, The Point of Pittsburgh: Production and Struggle at the Forks of the Ohio (Battle of Homestead Foundation: 2008), 89-93.

[4] The Connersville Weekly Times. September 18th, 1862 pg 2. http://access.newspaperarchive.com.proxy-iup.klnpa.org/us/indiana/connersville/connersville-weekly-times/1862/09-18/page-4?tag=connersville+weekly+times+september+18+1862&rtserp=tags/connersville-weekly-times-september-18,-1862?ndt=by&py=1860&pey=1869

[5] The Chicago Times quoted in Dawson’s Daily Times and Union. September 19th, 1862 pg 3. http://access.newspaperarchive.com.proxy-iup.klnpa.org/us/indiana/fort-wayne/dawsons-daily-times-and-union/1862/09-19/page-3?tag=allegheny+arsenal+explosion&rtserp=tags/allegheny-arsenal-explosion?page=2&ndt=by&py=1860&pey=1869

[6] Immediate Reaction, Allegheny Arsenal Exhibition, the National Archives at Philadelphia. http://www.archives.gov/philadelphia/exhibits/allegheny-arsenal/immediate-reaction.html

[7] Erasmus Wilson, Standard History of Pittsburg Pennsylvania (Chicago: H.R. Cornell & Company, 1898) 574.

[8] Tom and Nancy McAdams, “Allegheny Arsenal Monument,” (Updated: March 2008) http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~tandnmca/civilwar/alarsenal.html

[9]https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?gl=us&ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=205601721542355622574.00044adc2ba8db27c6bf6&dg=feature&mid=1412551624

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Heritage Narratives and Covered Bridge Festivals in Washington and Greene Counties

By David Breitkreutz

The rugged topography and continental climate of Pennsylvania produced a transportation problem during state’s westward expansion. Covering bridges protected the wooden truss structures from rot caused by inclement weather, and also distributed the weight, making them structurally stronger. By 1900 there were approximately 1500 covered bridges in Pennsylvania, today only a little over 200 are still extant, and 30 covered bridges are in Greene and Washington Counties. Covered bridges in Washington and Greene Counties are typically of the Queenpost Truss style, which present as bridges with additional diagonal timbers allowing for these bridges to be built with greater length.

Bridge-1The recognition of the significance of covered bridges to local heritage is manifested annually. On the weekend of September 20 – 21, 2014, Washington and Greene Counties Tourism Promotion Agencies hosted the 44th Covered Bridge Festival, the official kick-off to the fall season and signature event in the area. There are 10 (8 in Washington County and 2 in Greene County) festival locations, each offering a unique array of entertainment, activities, and crafts and foods from a variety of venders. I attended the festival locations at Ebenezer Bridge in Mingo Creek County Park, Washington County, and at White Bridge in Garards Fort, Greene County.

Bridge-2The Ebenezer Bridge was originally located next to the Ebenezer Church in Fallowfield Township crossing Maple Creek. The bridge relocated to Mingo Creek County Park in 1977 during the construction of Interstate 70. At its present location steel beams were added and extensions to the sidings where made so that it could rest on residual stone and mortar abutments from a previous covered bridge at that site. It is situated along a narrow asphalt path which follows a grassy floodplain within deciduous woods creating an idyllic spot for the bridge as well as an accessible location for heritage tourists. It is one of the most visited covered bridges during the festival. The festival at this location had many craft and food venders lining an approximate ¼ mile of the asphalt path, as well a live country music band, child’s train ride, and a petting zoo. The Ebenezer Bridge was in the middle of all this revelry, but were the patrons of the festival getting an “authentic” historical narrative and appreciation for the covered bridge? According to Tom Walczak, President of the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania, “people at the festival are not getting a true sense of history of Ebenezer Bridge.” He added that, “what people get out of these festivals is an appreciation of their heritage.”

Bridge-3Conversely, The White Bridge in Garard’s Fort, Greene County, was always situated at its present location spanning Whitely Creek and shows no sign of additional reinforcements, just minor rehabilitation. The date of the bridge’s   being attributed to both 1900 and 1919. This festival included a Civil War re-enactment of a staged “Battle for the Bridge”, upon asking several re-enactors, they confirmed that a Civil War skirmish had not occurred at that location. Further historical inaccuracies at this event included a man scantily clothed as a Huron Indian. Huron Indians are not local to this region—another temporal and spatial disconnect at an event supposedly honoring the White Bridge. This festival also offered living history demonstrations with re-enactors showing how tools were used and made, how quilts were sewn, and how pottery is made. These demonstrations were in keeping with the period of the White Bridge, as well as earlier times in Pennsylvania. The event also hosted horse drawn carriage rides and a live gospel band. At this festival Eben Williams, Executive Director/Administrator at The Greene County Historical Society and Museum, said “people get a sense of civic pride towards the bridge” and that the re-enactors were brought in to “tell a story of a shared past” and to “draw people to the event.” Another observation made was during a brief downpour of rain. A few people left the covered bridge to seek shelter in the temporary pop up tents that the venders used. I was among a few other people along with a horse drawn wagon, driver, and passengers that stayed under the cover the bridge provided. An elderly guest told me that “it looks like they didn’t know the covered bridge is here.” Did the runners subconsciously decide that seeking shelter under the covered bridge was disrespectful to the history and heritage? Whatever their motives it is clear that at this event the White Covered Bridge was an afterthought and was in the background, even though it was the reason for the festival.

Folk memories are a dominant theme in rural heritage narratives in Pennsylvania. Covered bridges are a nostalgic symbol within some of these stories of rural life and simpler times. The state, county, and local politicians, as well as the people of Pennsylvania, have had enough foresight to preserve, maintain, and restore many of these beautiful and historic pieces of heritage so that the public can enjoy them in the present day. The commodification of heritage can influence which heritage narratives are presented to the public. Of particular interest is whether the patrons of these covered bridge festivals are getting an accurate sense of history or whether they are getting a guileless and oddly sentimental version of their heritage

Covered bridges are an important part of transportation history in Washington and Greene Counties. At the festival their importance is undervalued because they are used as a commodity. However, the money generated by the festival is used to preserve many historical properties throughout the two counties, so the festival have monetary value to heritage and history. Local heritage is still important even if historical accuracy is thrown to the wind at these festivals. History is about people, through public folk narratives we can all gain a better appreciation of how these historic sites should be represented.

Additional Images:

Horse & bridge

Plate 2. Horse drawn carriage waiting out rain under the cover of the White Bridge

Reenact

Plate 3. Civil War re-enactors camped at the White Bridge

Vendor

Plate 4. Vender pop up tents at Ebenezer Bridge

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Tales from the Tower: A Summer of Documents and Discovery

By Jon Bogart

IMG_0651During the summer months of 2014 I had the opportunity to serve as an intern at the Pennsylvania State Archives through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) internship program. The internship took place in Harrisburg, within the massive capitol complex, which is home to various state government agencies. The State Archives primarily collects, preserves, and makes available records of the Commonwealth. This mostly encompasses the documents of government agencies, but also includes items that belonged to private companies and citizens. The summer was full of projects, field trips, and experiences, which strengthened my skills as an archivist as well as my desire to one day enter the field.

While at the State Archives I worked within the digital archives record division on a number of projects that varied in size and format. Work primarily revolved around the process of digitizing large format documents, which mostly included maps and railroad schematics. I also had the opportunity to take part in the acquisition process for a set of records from start to finish. The operation began with the initial appraisal run and concluded with placing labels on the cartons and finding a permanent home for them within the tower. The collection was the largest I had ever handled, containing forty-two cubic feet worth of documents.Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 9.05.26 PM

In the time between large-scale projects, I developed the everyday skills archivists must have to properly do their job. This involved fulfilling reference requests for patrons, monitoring the climate of the tower, as well as monitoring the inventory of the tower where the documents were stored. I further honed my skills by participating in training sessions and workshops on preservation, disaster response, and general archival practices. Administrative meetings gave me a complete picture of how the institution functioned from top to bottom. Each assignment and workshop session helped me to better understand how even the smallest job fit into the big picture of the archives and PHMC as a whole.

IMG_0520

Field trips were worked in over the course of the summer to give more examples of real world scenarios and demonstrate the diversity within the field. Outings included tours of the capitol complex buildings as well as historic sites run by the PHMC. The highlight of the summer was the opportunity to visit a federal, state, university, and county archive all within a single day. Each location varied in size, mission, and funding, yet they all had the same core goals in mind when it came to the preservation and presentation of the past.

During the length of the internship I was supervised by one of the state archivists in order to track my progress and designate new projects to work on. Fortunately I was surrounded by staff that always had valuable information to pass on and had a knowledgeable mentor that was also a graduate of IUP from the same degree program I am presently in. This gave me an extra boost of confidence knowing that an IUP alumnus was able to secure a position within an institution like the State Archives. My mentor provided excellent instruction and helped me to strengthen the archival skills I developed at IUP while also teaching me a few new tricks of the trade.

The archival principles course I took at IUP gave me the experience I needed to take part in the internship, which in turn strengthened the skills I learned at IUP. Spending the summer at the State Archives was an excellent investment and I walked away feeling more knowledgeable and confident regarding various aspects of archival theory and practice. The experience I gained not only strengthened my skills as an archivist, but also strengthened my desire to one day enter the field. I am truly grateful to have worked with such a dedicated staff this summer and will take the vast amount of information I learned and apply it this coming semester and beyond.

 

Jon Bogart is a second year graduate student at IUP, working on his MA in Public History with a focus on archival methods.

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Welcome Dr. Erin Conlin!

erin conlinWe are excited to have Dr. Erin L. Conlin join the IUP history faculty in Fall 2014 as an assistant professor (PhD University of Florida 2014.) She specializes in oral, public, and 20th-century U.S. history, and offers courses in these areas. She also researches migration, race, and labor issues, particularly in the context of agricultural workers. Her courses make connections between history and present day, and seek to enhance student learning and engagement through service learning projects.

Dr. Conlin will be teaching public history courses, as well as serving as internship coordinator. Please welcome Dr. Conlin to IUP when you see her.

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Joseph Labriola’s Internship at the Altoona Area Public Library

joe labriolaThis Spring I was given a gracious opportunity to intern at The Altoona Area Public Library in Altoona, Pennsylvania (my hometown). The Library offers many programs and services for its visitors including networking and social media classes, book sales, fingerprinting, and so much more. The Library staff were incredible, and they were determined to help me in anyway the could. As soon as I walked through the front door, they showered me with kindness and did everything in their power to help me reach success.

I worked in the special collections department under the Library Archivist, which enabled me to get hands on experience with some of the Altoona Area School District’s most unique items. My primary responsibility was to process the artifacts in the Library’s Alumni Room and create a finding aid that visitors could utilize to find the locations of the objects within the room. I also had to clean, organize, move, and order various items that would enhance the aesthetic appearance of the room and its contents. I was also able to discover a very rich history of the Altoona Area School District by reading through old yearbooks, scrapbooks, and personal correspondences.

After creating the finding aid, and testing it out myself, I found my creation to be something that was very accessible and streamlined. It was great to know that someone could use my finding aid as a guide, and would then be able to match what they were looking for with a corresponding box or file folder.
The Altoona Area Public Library enlightened me in a very empirical way. It was a hands on chance to put the skills and techniques I learned in my Public History courses to the test, and it more than enhanced my hopes in pursuing a degree in the public history field. The skills and lessons I learned due to this experience were of great importance and influence to me. I will make sure that I never forget to put them to use in my future endeavors within the public history realm.

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Joseph Pearce to Manage Collections at the Centre County Museum

Spring 2014 M.A. in Public History graduate has accepted a position as the Historical Collections Manager at the Centre County Library and Historical Museum.

Congratulations to Joseph!

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Congratulations to Our Spring 2014 Graduates

Congratulations to Melissa Martin and Joseph Pearce, our spring 2014 graduates.

We wish them the best for an exciting and challenging future!

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Dr. Botelho’s HIST 601 and the Early Modern Recipe Book Project

Dr. Lynn Botelho crafted a fascinating and enjoyable project for her spring semester’s HIST 601: Seminar in History. Dr. Botelho speaks to her project design:

“Our MA students are a fun mix of future public historians and future academics historians, with maybe a future editor or two thrown into the mix for good measure! My goal was three-fold. One, I wanted the students to work collaboratively on a public project and to do so very much in the way they might encounter in their work lives. Consequently, the website was built by them and its content provided by them. Two, I wanted to expose them to earlier forms of hand writing and to acquaint them with the challenges it provides. As a result, we did a crash course in early modern paleography. Here, it is hoped that the public historians could add a skill to their growing collection. And once again, we worked collaboratively to produce a full transcription of an early modern recipe book. Three, I wanted every student, regardless of professional goal, to be involved in the production of actual scholarship. Consequently, they wrote sometimes quite pioneering research papers that were entirely driven by their individual research in primary source documents, both in printed and manuscript forms. At the end of the day, we wanted to produce something that other scholars could us. Not only have their transcripts acquired attention, but so too have their blogs. They have over 50 followers and the number is growing!”

Follow their project blog at:
http://recipesandmedicineinearlymodernengland.wordpress.com

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Fall 2014 Course Offerings

(HIST 504) Medieval Europe I, 1000-1350
(HIST 505) Renaissance and Reformation
(HIST 526) History of Russia
(HIST 540) Colonial America
(HIST 563) Thought & Culture in Early Am
(HIST 600) Readings in History
(HIST 601) History Seminar
(HIST 605) Introduction to Public History
(HIST 770) Archival Principles & Practice

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