Friday, July 8, 2022

Project relocates blacksmith shop to RCHS museum

Workers disassemble the old Watkins Blacksmith Shop in
Casco for transport, reassembly and restoration at the
Raymond-Casco Historical Society Museum. The blacksmith
shop is among the oldest in Maine and will be used for public
demonstrations and instruction once the project has been
By Andrew Wing and Ed Pierce

If ideas shape the course of history, then generations to come will soon be able to relive part of Maine’s heritage that a team from the Raymond Casco Historical Society has disassembled and will restore at the society’s museum in Casco.

Steeped in history, the Watkins Blacksmith Shop is quite possibly the oldest blacksmith shop still in existence in Maine, and a project to resurrect and preserve this precious piece of Maine’s history is a massive undertaking for the historical society. The blacksmith shop first opened in the 1850s by William Watkins and was in use right up until the 1940s.

Footage of the blacksmith’s forge and shop was included in a 1922 silent movie called “Timothy’s Quest” and it once was part of a thriving rural community in Casco, but over the past eight decades, the building has slowly become a crumbling relic of Maine’s past. That is, until an idea about moving the building was pitched to Frank McDermott, president of the historical society.


“For the first time in nearly two hundred years, those traveling across Quaker Ridge in Casco will no longer start their journey with the familiar view of William Watkin’s Blacksmith Shop sitting on its knoll overlooking the village,” McDermott said. “Sitting at the intersection of the busy Bridgton-Portland Road, the Blacksmith Shop was literally at the center of local commerce and transportation. Today, the site sits empty, the result not of fire or neglect which claimed so many buildings of its era, but of a carefully planned move by the Raymond Casco Historical Society and a handful of experienced advisors and volunteers interested in preserving one of Maine’s historic treasures.” 
According to McDermott, the project was launched last fall when Steve Linne, the owner of the blacksmith shop, offered to give it to the Raymond-Casco Historical Society if it could be moved by Aug. 1 of this year.

McDermott, the former Raymond Schools superintendent, who has led the historical society for the past four years, immediately saw the potential of moving the blacksmith shop to the society’s museum on Watkins Farm in Casco, restoring it and using it for live demonstrations for the public.

“I haven't been as enthusiastic about a project in many years as I am about this,” said McDermott. “I see this as the reincarnation of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, and the reason I say that’s because I see us moving from a static museum where you go and stand and look, to rather a place where you go to both do and learn something.”

He pitched the idea to the historical society’s board of directors, and they liked the idea of relocating and turning it into a working blacksmith shop.

“I see us offering lots of things. For kids, we will offer crystal radio building workshops, or we will set up a telegraph system and teach kids about the telegraph,” McDermott said. “For adults, they can come and take blacksmithing lessons or metal casting lessons from the professional blacksmith that will be there so they can be doing things like they used to do.”

McDermott spent a good a part of last winter putting together a team of advisors that included Dr. Robert Schmick, Museum Director of 19th Century Curran Village in Orrington and a veteran of several blacksmith shop moves and Ed Somers of Bridgton, a specialist in preservation and restoration of buildings of this era. Somers agreed to take on the job of stabilizing and sectioning the building for transport and overseeing its reassembly.


Kerry Tottle of Limington devised a plan for lifting sections of the building over an adjacent building on the cramped worksite and led these experts. McDermott said that a small group of volunteers from Bangor, Hollis and several new members of the RCHS spent much of June preparing the building for relocation and helping load it on trailers.

Disassembly work was completed last week and now the shop sits in large pieces in a field at the RCHS’s Watkins Farm Museum site a few miles west of its original location awaiting reassembly. Work has begun on a modern foundation for the building designed to preserve it for future generations without detracting from its original appearance.

Over the next several months, new rough-cut hemlock flooring will be installed, the unique split stone foundation will be painstakingly reassembled on its own frost wall, and the ox lift will be hoisted back into place to await further restoration, McDermott said. Repairs will be made to several wall and roof sections using period materials being collected for that purpose and other structural repairs will be made.

He said that once the building has been made weather tight, work will commence to recreate the interior of the shop.

“Anyone who has ever been in an old workshop or barn has seen the shelves, brackets and old nails that appear everywhere on the walls. We needed to remove all those before we could move the building sections and reinstalling them will take time,” McDermott said. “It is also at this point that the side draft chimney will be rebuilt. The chimney collapsed a few years ago, but the bricks remain. Fortunately, a record exists of what it looked like from the silent movie of 1922.”


The shop is historically significant and believed to predate the separation of Casco from Raymond and is likely one of the oldest existing commercial buildings in the area, Schmick said.

“These kinds of trade buildings are few and far between in the State of Maine in general, and this is probably one of the earliest I have seen,” Schmick said.

The historical society has financed the move and foundation work thanks to several generous private donations and by borrowing from endowment accounts earmarked for maintenance and society operations. Casco voters agreed at town meeting to give up to $25,000 to assist the move, with the provision that it would only match the amount if the Town of Raymond agrees to contribute.

McDermott said RCHS’s initial matching $25,000 appropriation request was made too late to be considered as part of Raymond’s town meeting warrant this spring, but in reviewing Casco’s appropriation, Raymond Selectmen agreed to schedule a special town meeting on Aug. 9 to consider it. He said the project deserves the public’s support.

“We really need to get people to understand their history, the history of where they live, and how that relates to what we’re doing today,” said McDermott.

To make a donation for the project, call 207-310-3040. <

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