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January 15, 2013 > History: Three Blacksmith Shops

History: Three Blacksmith Shops

You are probably wondering what the blacksmith shops of John Horner, Timothy Rix and Heman Crowell could possibly have in common. Yes, they are all blacksmith shops and they were located near each other, but how else could they be connected?

John and Elizabeth Horner were the first Americans from the East Coast to settle at Mission San Jose and begin large scale farming operations. John and his brother, William, acquired more land, fenced out wild cattle, farmed what they could and engaged tenant farmers on shares. They extended their operations and, by the time Alameda County was formed, were the leading farmers not only in the county but around the state. John experimented with combine harvesters and became a recognized authority on the machines available in the state of California. He was familiar with the advances made with the harvesters and the problems associated with them. So he decided to construct his own machine.

John had a blacksmith shop on his ranch where he repaired machinery and fabricated and replaced broken parts, but he decided to have some parts of his proposed harvester made at the Rix blacksmith shop and the Crowell machine shop. These shops already had skilled machinists, blacksmiths and wood workers used to working with canvas, wood and rivets. Both shops were located in nearby Washington Corners, so distance was not a problem.

A. O. Rix operated a pioneer wheelwright shop next to Crowell's. He is listed in the 1867 business directory and subsequent directories, at times, as a wagon manufacturer. He invented and manufactured the Rix Almond Huller, which made it easier to harvest almonds. He sometimes advertised as a partner of Beazell and Crowell. Edward K. Rix was also listed as a blacksmith.

Heman Crowell, who seldom used his first name in writing, came from Nova Scotia to Washington Corners in 1859. He established a business as a blacksmith and machinist and eventually became recognized as "the village blacksmith." Jim Beazell moved from Centerville, and they formed a partnership advertised as Beazell and Crowell, Blacksmiths and Machinists." They erected a new machine shop in 1862 where they shod horses and built and repaired farm machinery. They were the only blacksmiths listed for Washington Corners in the 1867 business directory. They were also agents for the Buckeye Mower and Reaper and Perkins Wind Mills.

Crowell invented and marketed steel laid cylinder teeth all over the West. He kept several men busy making the teeth in his shop and sold from 10 to 50,000 annually for years. They sold for 30 cents each in 1876.

Jim Beazell moved on to Livermore and eventually became a state senator. Crowell purchased his partner's interest and continued to operate the business for many years. The shop was reported to be very busy in June 1876, preparing tools and machinery for harvesting hay.

Crowell advertised Turbine Windmills, Buckeye Pumps, and Toohey's Superior Oil for leather harness and buggy tops. He taught the blacksmith trade to Chris Rasmussen and others. He retired and sold the business to Thomas Tierney about 1903. Crowell was Irvington's "village blacksmith" for more than 40 years.

The 1878 Atlas of Alameda County lists the shops of Crowell and Rix as "about the only manufacturing industry at the Corners." (Washington Corners, now Irvington) The author also notes that mechanical and manufacturing interests were started here at an early day, notably that of Timothy Rix, who also became the first postmaster.

Timothy Rix was a sea captain from Boston who sailed to San Francisco then settled on his ranch at Washington Corners in 1850. He bought and erected a house that had been shipped "round the Horn, worked as a wheelwright and became the first postmaster at "the Corners." He established a store and wheelwright business that was continued by A. O. Rix in conjunction with Heman Crowell. One of the local history museum's treasured photographs shows the blacksmith shop of Timothy in 1853.

A.O. Rix was described as "a skilled wagonmaker." E. K. Pix who worked with him was "Wrought-iron maker and blacksmith." The "Day Book" kept by A. O. Rix was a record of the business conducted by the shop. Daily entries in the book gave the dates connected with the work done by the skilled wheelwrights, machinists and cabinetmakers. Listed items also itemize the costs connected with the handwork required to construct and assemble the raw materials such as wood, canvas and rivets. The iron work was done in Heman Crowell's shop next door.

Items listed also give the name of the customers who ordered them. And here are the names we are looking for - J. M. Horner, I. M. and W. Y. Horner and Horner & Co. Items listed include: 12-foot belt, Fork Handles, Pulleys and drums, rivets, 15 feet of ash, labor changes for sawing and most revealing of all "work on harvester." Skilled workers in the Rix and Crowell shops were constructing parts for the harvester that John Horner had planned and designed.

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