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Ben Mikesell | The Journal Gazette
Demolition of the burned blacksmith shop at Historic Fort Wayne began Saturday. Volunteers spent the day salvaging what they could. A larger building that would allow more craftsmen to work is planned.

Razing of fort’s burned blacksmith shop begins

Ben Mikesell | The Journal Gazette
Volunteer Adam Missler, left, works with head blacksmith Norm Gable on Saturday to clean up the blacksmith shop.

Volunteers with Historic Fort Wayne on Saturday started dismantling the building housing the carpentry and blacksmith shop, which was damaged by fire last month, but plans are to replace the building with a larger structure that will house more craftsmen.

“We got lemons. We’ll make lemonade,” said Sean O’Brien, a member of Historic Fort Wayne’s board.

The fire destroyed most of the tools in the shop, including some that were up to 200 years old. Some replacement tools have been donated, O’Brien said, and others have donated money for the project.

Also, Koehlinger-Kruse Security Systems gave the fort a new security system at a discounted price, and it was installed Friday.

The security system is an important addition to the fort, which also was the victim of a theft recently when someone stole a cannon from one of the block houses.

The fort plans to salvage oak lumber that was not damaged in the fire and also salvage iron work used in the building. The ironwork will be refurbished by Franke Plating, O’Brien said.

Tom Grant, Historic Fort Wayne’s treasurer, said the building was made of 8-by-8-inch beams, and many of those beams had either slight or no damage. Engineers say they are still structurally sound, he said.

Plans are to replace the building with a larger one that will make room for a new blacksmith shop and carpentry shop but also provide space where gunsmiths, tinsmiths and other craftsmen can set up operations.

That will make the fort a more attractive destination for craftsmen because instead of living out of a tent, they will have a building to work in and sleep in at night, Grant said.

The new building, Grant said, “will increase our offerings to the public and our educational ability by at least 100 percent.”

Grant said the fort is working with a local sawmill and plans to build the new building out of ash. Huge amounts of solid ash lumber are available because so many large ash trees were cut down after being infected with the emerald ash borer. That will reduce the cost of the building.

Grant also recently visited Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and came back with photographs and plans for the blacksmith forge used there, so a replica of that forge will be built in the new building.

Volunteers are already laying out footings, and the new building “will go up pretty quickly,” Grant said. He expects it to be complete by sometime in September.

Meanwhile, the stolen cannon, which weighed 200 to 300 pounds, has not been located. O’Brien said the cannon, made of pig iron, probably wouldn’t have a scrap value of more than $100.

O’Brien’s main concern is that whoever stole the cannon won’t know how to use it and will try to fire it using too much power or the wrong type of powder and turn the gun into a giant pipe bomb.

“Despite the fact that they stole it, I don’t want to see anyone get killed,” O’Brien said.

Grant, who actually owned the cannon, said it wasn’t in firing condition and had never been fired at the fort.

It was just used as part of a display.