East Goshen’s blacksmith is a nod to the past

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When that little stone East Goshen Blacksmith shop is kicking out smoke, its a chance to see history come alive and learn a little bit about the past.

Retired after 42 years, Conestoga High School Art teacher Gary Kershner has taken up the art of blacksmithing, at Route 352 or Chester Road, just south of Paoli Pike. He gives a wonderful blow by blow description, while bending hot steel.

Soft bituminous coal heats up the steel to about 2,000 degrees F. Any hotter and the steel would melt.

The dark building is in wonderful shape. You can feel a little of what America was like more than two decades prior to the Declaration of Independence. It’s a super cool spot.

Tools of the blacksmith trade. (BILL RETTEW – MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Kerschner said he enjoys describing and practicing this almost lost art.

“It’s so soft when it’s hot,” he said about the metal. “You can form it really easily.

“It’s almost like working with clay. You can twist it, forming it to a point and change the configuration.”

Blacksmith Gary Kerschner works the anvil and hammer. (BILL RETTEW – MEDIANEWS GROUP)

And then the moment comes that the visiting elementary school students and Scouts love.

The blacksmith thrusts the newly formed product into a tub of water, instantly making it hard and cool, so it can’t be bent or formed any further.

“It’s really fun to see the little kids’ faces when you pull that yellow-orange hot piece of metal from the fire, after forming it, then plunge it into the water. It sizzles.”

Blacksmith Gary Kerschner talks with visitors to the East Goshen shop. (BILL RETTEW – MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Some children reach out right away to touch the cooled metal, while others keep their hands to themselves, while not sure if the recently red hot steel could become cold that quickly.

Kerschner is often asked if he gets burned. He says that he rarely does because he keeps the hot metal in front of him.

“You have to be organized,” he said. He lays the hot steel either to the side or back in the fire, while keeping track.

The coal fires up at the East Goshen Blacksmith Shop. (BILL RETTEW – MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Fire is key. He coats the coal with water to keep oxygen from getting into the fire. In order for the fire to keep burning, oxygen is pulled from the coal.

The coal turns to coke, which is much hotter, puffs up and looks like a chunk of popcorn. Instead of just a few surfaces, there are many.

The blacksmith blows in air and the coal heats up with a burst of color.

There are a thousand types of steel. Kerschner bends mild steel with a hammer, which is made from a harder steel.

The banging takes place on an anvil or work surface. The blacksmith uses a rhythm to save energy and to change and shape.

At first a square surface is formed, sometimes then an eight-sided piece, and finally, if desired, curves appear.

Kerschner told me he enjoys talking about the history of East Goshen more than he does banging the metal.

In 1701, Goshen was part of West Chester (Turks Head) when it was a large farm.

In 1740, the Ashbridge Family built the current blacksmith and wheelwright shop. In 1777, 10,000 British troops, following the Battle of Brandywine, surrounded the nearby Friends Meeting Hall. The British likely did damage to the shop since reparations were paid at what was then the Reis Farm.

Benson Rohrbeck was responsible for making it a working forge when East Goshen performed renovations from 1980-1982.

Across the parking lot is the historic Plank House, which was moved to the spot during the 1990s. A visit here is also a wonderful way to embrace the past. Kerschner gives Plank House tours when at the blacksmith shop. For group or private tours of the plank house at other times, call the township directly at 610-692-7171.

The nearby parking lot is also a gateway to East Goshen Park trails, and a great boardwalk.

Kerschner, 73, attended high school in Hazleton. During a school trip to the Everhart Museum in Scranton, he learned much about the art of steel. He later learned as a student from Stanley Lechtzin, an artist at the Tyler School of Art, whose work was displayed in Scranton.

Working as a blacksmith has filled a void. Kerschner said he misses teaching. As an elective, art students truly wanted to learn after choosing to be in his classes.

“I had promised myself that if I didn’t want to go in when I woke up, I wouldn’t go in anymore,” he said. He obviously enjoyed the job he held for 42 years.

Kerschner’s enthusiasm is contagious.

Recreating the past is a joy. Learning about history is fun. See you there.

The blacksmith shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays, weather permitting, typically from March to October. Look for that puff of smoke!

Bill Rettew is s weekly columnist and East Goshen resident. You won’t catch him grabbing any 2,000 degree F metal. You can reach him at brettew@dailylocal.com

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