Handmade (Part 1): Men of Steel

The people who built Fort Worth in the nineteenth century built it the hard way, by hand, without the aid of nailguns, power drills, laser levels, cement mixers, computer-aided design, bulldozers, backhoes, cranes, or forklifts. Tools ran on muscle (human or horse), not on electricity or gasoline. Men—and women—used tools that had not changed in decades, even centuries.

One such man was George Eitelman, who was born in 1859 in Ohio, came to Fort Worth from Cleveland in 1878.

eitelman 1886 wellgeAfter working briefly as an apprentice to blacksmith Ewald Henry Keller, George opened his own blacksmith shop at 7th and Commerce streets. This 1886 Wellge bird’s-eye-view map labels Eitelman’s shop “79.”

Blacksmiths were a vital part of life into the twentieth century, even in cities, even after the advent of the automobile. Blacksmiths used two primary tools—fire and steel—to make and repair tools, weapons, farm implements, cooking utensils, carriages and wagons, furniture. Like many blacksmiths, of course, Eitelman also shoed horses and mules.

In 1888 brother Michael A. Eitelman (1855-1943) joined George. Geo. Eitelman’s Park Shoeing Shop became “Eitelman Bros., Blacksmiths.”

eitelman 1890In 1890 the Eitelman blacksmith shop was one of many businesses that closed to allow employees to attend the opening of the second season of the Spring Palace exhibition.

In the 1890s the second generation of Eitelmans joined the business. That’s Michael’s son Edward (born 1881) on the far left, then brothers George and Michael.

By 1899 Michael Eitelman had his own blacksmith shop a block down the street from George’s.eitelman-permit

In 1907 Michael took a new partner: son Edward. Eitelman Bros., Blacksmiths became “Eitelman & Son Shoeing & Carriage Shop.” Michael and Edward were granted a building permit for a one-room brick blacksmith shop on the near South Side.

eitelman-removalEitelman & Son moved into the new shop on Railroad Avenue (Vickery Boulevard) just six weeks later.

That dark mass to the left of Edward and Michael is a mound of discarded horseshoes. By the time that mound of shoes was sold for scrap, it would obscure the “Eitel” in the “Eitelman & Son” sign, weigh thirty-two tons, and measure twenty feet by eight feet by four feet.

Father Michael ran the carriage shop; son Edward ran the shoeing shop. Edward would later remember that a shoer’s busy season was spring, when the weather warmed and mules that pulled ice wagons were back on the street in those days before refrigeration. Horses and mules that worked on cobbled, paved, or bricked streets in the city required shoeing about once a month, Edward said. Turn-around time was shoeing was about thirty minutes. The charge for shoeing a horse was one dollar before World War I. The war brought shortages and price hikes, and the charge doubled, Edward remembered.

The blacksmithing business was good. In 1909 Michael Eitelman had this stone house on College Avenue in Fairmount built by his son-in-law, stonemason Andrew Gilchrist (see Part 2). Ah, but those are not real rusticated stones. Gilchrist also cast concrete as simulated stone.

Originally the house had two pyramid-shaped stone hitching posts and a carriage step with “Eitelman” carved on it. Gilchrist probably made the hitching posts and carriage step.

Son Edward lived next door. As his business and his family expanded, so did his house.

eitelman 1916 cdeitelman-ad-1916By 1916 Fort Worth still had several blacksmiths and horseshoers.

eitelman-ad-1917Just as steel is shaped by a blacksmith’s hammer, transportation is shaped by technology. As more people began to travel by automobile and fewer by horse, blacksmiths had to change with the times. Blacksmith shops made a logical evolution, becoming the first auto paint and body shops. George Eitelman’s mentor, blacksmith Ewald Henry Keller, also evolved from building carriages to repairing automobiles.

For several years Eitelman & Son worked on horses, carriages, and horseless carriages.

When Michael Eitelman retired, son Edward (pictured) continued the business. He closed the shop in the late 1920s but found that he couldn’t walk away from the anvil entirely: He continued to be in demand to advise veterinarians and to shoe racehorses until his death on January 24, 1961.

eitelman gravesFather and son are buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

After Edward closed the blacksmith shop on Vickery Boulevard, the building was razed, and another business built a building on the site. Years later that business renovated its cafeteria. During the renovation workers unearthed these rusted relics of Eitelman & Son blacksmith shop.

That business was Williamson-Dickie, whose corporate logo, fittingly, features a horseshoe.

(Thanks to Jay Eitelman for photos and information about his family’s men of steel.)

Handmade (Part 2): Men of Stone

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3 Responses to Handmade (Part 1): Men of Steel

  1. Lizann Bridges says:

    1812 College St was my great grandparent’s home – Ed and Mary Eitelman. My dad Fred Stockdale was born in this house. Every one of the these pictures of the Eitelman’s and the blacksmith shop came from our family. I had no idea of the Dickie’s connection. Gosh I would love to see this house again. Nina Dillman, if this would ever be possible please let me know. My parents went back to see it when the owners back in the 90’s had it. Another unrelated fact about that house… McKinney Memorial Bible Church started in their living room.

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