The main part of the building selected to represent the Witt Blacksmith Shop was originally a granary on a farm in Francis Creek. It was donated by Robert Lyman and moved to Pinecrest Historical Village in 1976 with sponsorship from the J.J. Stangel Company of Manitowoc. A large portion of the equipment and tools were donated by the Anton Witt family who also helped to set up the exhibit and make it fully operational for blacksmithing demonstrations.
Blacksmithing is one of the oldest trades in existence. Nearly every town and village had at least one blacksmith shop. Early Manitowoc County blacksmiths were kept busy repairing buggies, wagons, cutters, and sleighs; making horse, oxen, mule and swamp shoes; and sharpening plow points for farmers. The blacksmith also had woodworking tools and equipment for making buggy and wagon wheel rims and spokes up until the time these items were mass-produced at mills for purchase.
The blacksmith shop, like the general store or post office, was also a meeting place where local residents gathered to find out the latest gossip and discuss the day’s events and happenings.
The Witt Blacksmith Shop was started by Anton Witt, Sr. in 1909. It was located on “The Old Plank Road” at Four Corners (now the intersection of North Rapids Road and Menasha Avenue in Manitowoc). Anton Witt, Sr. began his apprenticeship at the age of 16 with his uncle, Albert Johanek. At age 18, he left to attend Wagon Makers School in Milwaukee. Being a farrier he was employed for a time by the Schlitz Brewery, shoeing the draft horses that hauled the wagons loaded with barrels of beer throughout the City of Milwaukee.
In 1909 Anton also purchased his uncle Albert’s blacksmithing business and “Tony, the blacksmith,” as he was known by many residents, founded Witt’s Horseshoeing and General Blacksmith Shop. The wood frame shop was built with a plank floor, one forge and had an area for woodworking in the rear of the shop. Horseshoes were hung from the rafters with good shoes tagged with the owner’s name for later use. New shoes were hung in a separate area according to size and weight.
According to Evelyn Witt Kliment, “Each smith had his own “farrier box” containing the various tools needed for horseshoeing. Nails had to be clipped off the hoof and rasped down smoothly. Not only were shoes applied, but hoofs were cleaned and trimmed to fit the shoes. Many shoes were heated and fitted for various shaped hoofs.”
As times and technology changed the shop was updated with an electric motor replacing the hand-turned blower for the forge and gasoline engines running the larger machines. But technology also changed the types of work done by blacksmiths leaving the demand for shoeing limited to race and riding horses.
After a tour of duty in the South Pacific during World War II, Anton’s son, Lloyd joined his father in the business. Both father and son were kept busy as the blacksmith craft continued to change with the times. Lloyd, with a talent for gas and electric welding as well as blacksmithing, eventually purchased the business and Anton went into “retirement” still supervising work and visiting with customers. Anton Sr. passed away in 1963.