Water Street along the Monongahela River in Rices Landing will be clanging with activity Saturday, April 15, when a number of blacksmiths will converge on the W.A. Young and Sons Foundry and Machine Shop to take part in the 29th annual Hammer-In Festival.
From 9 a.m. till 4 p.m., the members of the Pittsburgh Area Blacksmith-Artist Association will demonstrate their skills with hammer on anvil. They will pound out items, such as ornamental hooks and trivets and elements for railings, doors and gates, much of which will be for sale. Many will also bring with them crafted items that will be auctioned off at 1 p.m., along with duplicates of things from the foundry and machine shop.
“To lessen the weight on the upper floor of the building, we’ll also auction off excess foundry materials, such as grinding wheels, bolts and nuts,” said George Blystone, foundry caretaker. “Throughout the day, I’ll also start up the machinery in the building for those in attendance and maybe even make a thing or two, just like in the old days.”
Described as “the nation’s best preserved machine shop of the period” by Robert Vogel, curator emeritus of mechanical and civil engineering for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the W.A. Young and Sons Foundry and Machine shop was opened by Willam Alies Young in 1900.
Young designed and built an intricate overhead line shaft system of leather belts, pulleys and wooden drums that provided power to the machine shop. The innovative system, which allowed the operator to engage or disengage each piece of machinery independently from the other, was initially powered by steam, later by gas and eventually by an electric motor. An addition was added to the structure in 1908 to house the foundry.
During Hammer-In, which is described as a celebration of traditional blacksmithing practices, visitors will be able to try their own hand at pounding metal on an anvil. Those who get hungry in the process can purchase refreshments like hot dogs, hamburgers, donuts and coffee sold by Boy Scout Troop 1168 of Rices Landing.
At noon, Augie Carlino, president and chief executive officer of Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation, which owns the machine shop, will present a plaque that recently designated the building a National Historic Landmark. Carlino invited both State Sen. Camera Bartolotta and State Rep. Pam Snyder to the presentation. The great-granddaughter of the machine shop’s founder, Carol Larrobino, who recently moved to Mt. Morris, also hopes to attend the event.
National Historic Landmark designations are the highest form of federal recognition that can be awarded to properties and sites in the United States. To be designated as an NHL, it must be proved that the site not only possesses integrity, but that its history is nationally significant.
“The history of W. A. Young and Sons is tied to the development of Rices Landing, Pennsylvania, which, in turn, is tied to the history of navigation on the Monongahela River,” Carlino said. “Typically, when people think of the industrial history of ‘The Mon,’ they think of the large steel mills, the expanse of the railroad lines and yards, the reach of the coal mines and coke ovens, or the river barges and tugboat industry that supplied this massive industrial complex.
“Often lost in this mix are the small facilities and workplaces that were so vital to the operations of the large mills and mines,” Carlino added. “W. A. Young and Sons Machine Shop and Foundry represents this integral component of America’s industrial history.”
Recognized as a prime example of America’s industrial heritage, the site is the only extant and functional example of our nation’s 20th century evolution from local blacksmith shops to mass production machining facilities. For 70 years, the shop served the changing needs of area residents and regional business; its early years were in support of the local steamboat industry and it later bridged the gap between consumer needs and jobs deemed too unprofitable for newer, larger commercial shops.
After being shuttered for more than a decade, the Greene County Historical Society purchased the site in 1985 to ensure its preservation. In the 1990s, under the auspices of the National Parks Service and the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation’s founding entity, the Steel Industry Task Force, the site was documented by the Library of Congress, and later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
In 2009, Rivers of Steel took over stewardship of the property, and addressed restoration needs, including replacing the roof and stabilizing the foundation.
The Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation is a nonprofit that manages the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, an eight-county region, and one of 49 such organizations as designated by Congress. Its mission, in partnership with the National Parks Service, is to conserve the industrial, cultural, natural, and recreational resources of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Among the many programs and projects it maintains, destinations such as the Carrie Blast Furnaces in Swissvale and Rankin and The Bost Building in Homestead — both National Historic Landmarks — along with the Battle of Homestead Site in The Waterfront, help to tell the story of this region’s evolution from colonial settlement to “Big Steel” to the modern era — highlighting a legacy of innovation inherent in the character of southwestern Pennsylvania.
These have become popular destinations for visitors and tourists over the last few years. Rivers of Steel also operates a successful receptive services tour business that packages and sells Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania destinations, sites and activities to out-of-town motor coach operators, as well as an education program that serves school audiences.
For more information about Rivers of Steel, call 412-464-4020.
The year’s 29th Hammer-In is free of charge, as is parking. Directions to the machine shop and foundry, located at 114 Water Street in Rices Landing, will be marked by wooden, anvil-shaped signs with arrows pointing the way.
“Last year, we had about 300 visitors,” Blystone said. “This year, we’re hoping to have about 350. It should be a fun day.”
For information about the Hammer-In Festival, call 724-710-4898.