A blazing fire pit is a welcomed sight on a rainy Sunday afternoon in the historic Joseph Villiger’s Blacksmith Shop in Metamora. Not only is the robust flame the focal point in the shop owned and restored by blacksmith Laure Adams ’85 MBA ’90, it also serves as the backdrop to the original stump used by Villiger, a Swiss-born blacksmith who worked with his anvil from 1906 to 1938.“I saw the potential and wanted to deliver on that potential,” said Adams. “Our society has become very wasteful, in general, so if I didn’t purchase the shop and restore it, the shop may have been torn down. Once the history is lost, it can’t be recovered.”
After purchasing the shop from Villiger’s grandchildren in 2003, she spent the first year restoring the exterior, and the second year restoring the interior. A lifelong Metamora resident, she shared the family’s vision of bringing a working blacksmith shop back to town. “After I bought the shop, I learned the basics of blacksmithing from Gary Jameson ’65 of the Sun Foundation. He’s the owner, artist, designer, and teacher at Jameson Metal and Design in Edwards.”
During the early 1900s, blacksmiths serviced the townspeople by making tools, nails, horseshoes and cow shoes; by sharpening plow blades for farming; and by providing a number of other services. “There was not a Lowe’s or Menard’s,” Adams explained recently to a busload of area third graders on a field trip. “Everything they made was from a piece of metal.” The moment one boy stepped into the shop and took a look around, he said in amazement, “This is tight. I want to be a blacksmith.”
After working all week as a manager in the global quality area at Caterpillar Inc., Adams treasures her weekends at the shop. With a degree in manufacturing technology, and an MBA, her education and time-management skills are put to use in a relaxing, creative atmosphere. Adams has always shown an interest in the arts. She is a potter and the treasurer of the local historic society.
Adams is currently restoring this Metamora building that was a tavern in the early 1900s.
Signature pokers, J-hooks, and S-hooks are just a few examples of what Adams personally produces in her shop. People bring in iron and raw materials for her, but she never hesitates to “lock up my brakes to pick up scrap iron.” Local residents have donated tools, and Adams is constantly on the lookout to enhance the authenticity of her environment. She built her own tables out of old lumber to the correct specifications of the original square blacksmith tables. She is also restoring several additional historic buildings in downtown Metamora.
“Right now, it’s a break-even operation. It’s about preserving the history; it never was about making money. When the old-timers come in and talk about Joe Villiger, it makes me feel good to hear them reminisce,” she said. “As you hammer, you’re talking to the metal. Sometimes you know what it’s going to be, sometimes you don’t. It’s not like cooking. If you make a mistake cooking, you can’t fix it. If you make a mistake with metal, you reheat it in the fire pit. I’m not afraid of a challenge, and I’ve never been accused of not having any ideas.”
The Joseph Villiger Blacksmith Shop is open Sundays 1-4 p.m., May through October. Visit metamorablacksmith.home.att.net for more information.