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Blacksmith shop showcases a part of history

June 24, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. - Amid people basking in the sun around the swimming pool at Caledonia State Park and others seeking relief in the shade of the park's trails lies a testament to the area's rich history.

The Thaddeus Stevens Blacksmith Shop is a single-room museum off U.S. 30 filled with equipment from the mid-19th century when Stevens opened Caledonia Iron Works.

Stevens, a statesman who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and was a staunch abolitionist, purchased land and called it Caledonia, after his home county in Vermont, said Bruce McFate, park superintendent.

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While the business, which Stevens opened with J.D. Paxton in 1837, was not profitable at first, it turned around by the start of the Civil War.

But on June 26, 1863, Confederates on their way to the Battle of Gettysburg torched the complex and destroyed the iron furnace, McFate said. The business was targeted because of Stevens' opposition to slavery.

Though he hoped to rebuild, Stevens died in 1868 at age 76 without ever reopening the shop.

"For five years after, he tried to put it back in service, but it was no longer profitable," McFate said.

The land was sold to the state in 1902, and the building that now houses the blacksmith shop was built in 1907 as a trolley station, McFate said.

"Was it the original site of the blacksmith shop? Only the Lord knows," he said.

Photos show destruction of the furnace in the 1860s, and the site of the current blacksmith shop as it looked as a trolley station in 1907, abutting U.S. 30 when it was a dirt road. The Chambersburg-Gettysburg Electric Railway leased the land until about 1925, McFate said.

Tools on loan from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission hang rusted from the walls. An original cast-iron stove marked with JD Paxton & Co. stands about 2 feet high and 2 feet wide as an example of what workers created in the original blacksmith shop.

The blacksmith shop is open to the public on weekends through the summer. The white stone building is open from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 2 p.m. Sundays.

A volunteer from the Thaddeus Stevens Society in Gettysburg, Pa., staffs the shop to tell visitors about Stevens' impact on the history of the United States and Pennsylvania.

Beverly and Lenwood Schott, of Crossroads, Pa., enjoyed a morning in the park Sunday before stopping in the blacksmith shop.

Beverly Schott said she has been there several times before due to her interest in Stevens.

Stevens grew up in Vermont and graduated from Dartmouth College. From there he moved to York, Pa., eventually passed the bar exam and began practicing law in Gettysburg in 1816.

He served in the Pennsylvania House of Delegates and in 1848 was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a member of the Whig Party. After a six-year break, Stevens was elected again in 1858, this time as a member of the newly-formed Republican Party, and served until his death.

He is said to have pressured Abraham Lincoln to use blacks as soldiers and free the slaves, and he was a leader in the Reconstruction period following the war.

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