The following article was published in the Atlanta Journal on Jan. 2, 1958, written by Sara Kessler. Photo provided by Barbara Rahn Scott.
The Village Smithy
Under Spreading Magnolia Tree Willard Rahn Plies His Trade
Guyton, Ga. Under a spreading magnolia tree the village smithy sings as his anvil rings a clanging tune. “And children coming home from school…. look in the open door… They love to see the flaming forge…. And hear the bellows roar.”
Willard Rahn spends only part of his working hours under the towering tree today. People come for him from far and wide. He takes his tool kit and travels as much as 100 miles a day, answering a multitude of calls besides shoeing hayburners. He is well known in Effingham, Bulloch, Bryan and Screven counties.
A native of Guyton, the colorful character is a community institution. He lives with his son Warren and wife and Barbara, 8 year old grandchild.
He can trace the ancestry of countless families in this section.
The white haired ruddy faced man looks and acts much younger than his years. He is bubbling over with the joy of living. And his conversation is interspersed with flashes of dry wit.
Trip into the Past
A visit to Willard Rahn is like a trip into the past. This 79 year old blacksmith is not only keeping alive a craft that is almost obsolete but is also giving it a modern touch. He has been at the job 63 years, beginning as an apprentice at the age of 16. He studied the trade four years under H.
R. Dasher. During this time he earned $1 a week and his board.
“I’m a proud fellow,” said Willard, as a big smile lighted his countenance. “I’m fixed up pretty good for an old countryman, and I don’t intend to stop the spray of sparks.
“Do you know that forging by hand is one of the oldest shaping operations known to man?” he asked. “James Reid was the first blacksmith to come to Virginia with the Jamestown colonists in 1607. Soon 5 more were sent out by the Virginia Company of London.
“Long ago a blacksmith was called ‘wheelwright’ or ‘farrier’. For centuries he made tools, utensils, and weapons for an entire community.
According to Rahn most of the blacksmiths closed their doors in the early 1930s. There is quite a bit of pocket change in the vanishing trade — a fact that would make Longfellow’s smithy break an anvil. The shortage of the village smithies is so acute that
Michigan State College has opened a course in blacksmithing. Scholarships are now being offered to induce young men to enter the profession.
Mr. Willard explained that he still continues some of his first jobs, but that his category today includes much besides shoeing horses. He makes locks, keys, hinges, window grills, grates, andirons and he says he can repair anything from a tiny toy train to a tractor plow point.
The low unsealed shop is in the Rahns’ back yard. The sand floor has a clean, just swept look. The scent of burning cinders fills the air. The aged beams, filmed with smoke, are sentinels that tell a long story of desterity.
On two sides of the shop are the original work benches. Under one are stacks of wood and coal. Hanging above are lines of saws, brace and bit sets, ropes and a hand drill. The other working area is lined with tool boxes, dozens of horseshoes in all sizes, grind stones, augurs, axe handles, wrecking bars, planes, and vises. In the rear, five slanting bins contain assortments of flatters, nails, screws, punchers, cleavers, and sledge hammers.
I watched him turn the bellows, a wind making device which fanned the glowing coals into flames. The grate centers a square forge. I saw him reshape logs hooks by beating them against an anvil — singing at the same time. When they were red hot, he dipped them into a slake tub of water for sudden cooling.
There is one thing that this modern blacksmith has in common with the one of yesteryear. He is a mighty man with plenty of muscle to do anvil founding. And his hands are large and sinewy.
Willard Rahn knows the fulfillment of a simple life. He has a right to be proud of his accomplishments. He is making a singular contribution to his fellowman.
Note from Susan Exley: Mr. Willard J. Rahn born in 1879 passed away in 1972 at 93 years of age and is buried in the Guyton Cemetery. His son Warren also has passed away. His surviving granddaughter Barbara (Rahn) Scott shared the accompanying photo. Willard Rahn had a brother Hamilton “Hammy” and a sister Effie. This newspaper article was shared with Historic Effingham Society by Effie (Rahn) Hinely’s granddaughter Nancy Johnston of Woodbine Maryland.
This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org