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State Historical Society of Iowa

Fire Up the Coals and Become a Blacksmith in Haverhill

May 2, 2018

DES MOINES – Turn hot metal into horseshoes and tour the "History on the Move" mobile museum during “Learn to Blacksmith Day” at the historic blacksmith shop in Haverhill.

Professional blacksmiths from the Upper Midwest Blacksmith Association will stoke up the forges and offer hands-on training for beginners who want to learn the trade 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 19 at the the Matthew Edel Blacksmith Shop, 214 First Street in Haverhill, between Bondurant and Marshalltown.

The open-house event is free to the public and the blacksmith association will have all the necessary tools and materials. Participants should wear closed-toe shoes or boots, and cotton or wool clothing. (Sparks or pieces of slag will burn holes in synthetic materials.) No previous experience is necessary, and the shop will be open for tours.

A German immigrant, Matthew Edel owned his blacksmith shop from 1883 until his death in 1940. His family donated the shop and its contents in 1986 to the State Historical Society of Iowa, which documented 4,486 artifacts and left them exactly as Edel did 78 years ago.

Over the past 31 years, visitors have enjoyed seeing the shop and the rare collection of blacksmith gear he used to build and repair wagons, horseshoes and beautiful iron crosses that mark graves in a cemetery nearby. Visitors can also tour the blacksmith shop and see how Edel lived and worked.

History on the Move

Meanwhile, beginner blacksmiths and others can tour the "History on the Move" mobile museum, a bright blue, custom-built Winnebago that travels the state's highways and back roads to share stories from Iowa's past. The mobile museum will be open for free self-guided tours 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 19 at the blacksmith shop.

The museum on wheels currently houses a 300-square-foot exhibition called "Iowa History 101" and is filled with artifacts from the State Historical Society's collection. Like a visit to your grandparents' attic, the exhibition unpacks stories of Iowa's past with nearly 50 artifacts, including:

  • battered miner's cap worn by Carl Coghlan, a Marion County coal miner
  • 1917 prototype of the state flag designed by Dixie Cornell Gebhardt of Knoxville
  • pen Gov. William Harding used to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote
  • basketball jersey Lynne Lorenzen wore during her glory days at Ventura High School
  • Olympic medal from sprinter Natasha Kaiser-Brown of Des Moines
  • patch from a spacesuit worn by astronaut Peggy Whitson of Beaconsfield
  • As a bonus, Mike Wolfe, the creator and star of the hit television series “American Pickers,” lent his voice and video talents to the exhibition’s multimedia elements. A native of Le Claire, Wolfe has a long-standing interest in history and a knack for using artifacts to unlock its stories.

The idea for the mobile museum emerged in 2014 from a series of community conversations organized by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the State Historical Society. Iowans who care deeply about history made it clear they want new ways to access the State Historical Museum’s resources.

Accordingly, the 38-foot Winnebago will visit all 99 Iowa counties over the course of three years, from 2017 through 2019, with stops at schools, libraries, local museums, community festivals, county fairs and other places where Iowans gather. 

The mobile museum – which is sponsored by EMC Insurance Companies, Casey's General Stores and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach – is one of a trio of “Iowa History 101” exhibitions. Visitors to the State Historical Museum in Des Moines can find both a traditional museum exhibition, plus an interactive "Hands-On History" gallery designed especially for children.

If you go:

  • What: Learn to Blacksmith Day and History on the Move mobile museum
  • When: May 19, 2018 – 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Where: Matthew Edel Blacksmith Shop, 214 First Street in Haverhill, between Bondurant and Marshalltown.
  • Who: Anyone interested in learning the craft and history of blacksmithing. Admission: Free.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.