Forging a bridge to the past

The Baltimore Sun

The heavy black piece of iron has spent the past few decades at Rodgers Forge Elementary School, first on display in the school library, then migrating into storage and even serving as a doorstop before the principal spirited it away to a closet for safekeeping.

Now the Rodgers Forge school is offering the piece to the Maryland Historical Society, in hopes that it will once again serve as a reminder of the Towson-area neighborhood's roots.

The ironwork, as it is called, is part of the forge that gave the area its name, said Deirdre Barone, a school volunteer and parent. A forge is a furnace for heating and working metal, and also describes a blacksmith's shop - like the one that Irish immigrant George Rodgers established more than 200 years ago in south Towson.

"This is an original, unique piece from 1800, and if we don't do something now, it's going to get lost," Barone said.

The fragile ironwork requires two people to lift and resembles a rounded tombstone with a cone protruding from it. Though many have called it an anvil, it actually might have been a "tuyere," a nozzle in the smithy's fire pit that forces air through the coals to create extreme heat.

"It's part of the history of the state of Maryland, and it represents Baltimore County," Principal Susan L. Deise said. "It's something that all members of the community can enjoy, and their children can learn and benefit from. Anything like that really needs to be shared with the public."

"The historical merit of it is unquestionable," said Alexandra Deutsch, the historical society's deputy director for special projects. "It's unusual and important to the story."

In deciding to acquire an item, the society typically weighs such factors as its place in Maryland history, whether the Baltimore-based museum is the right home and whether the collection already includes something "that tells the story equally well," said Anne Garside, the communications director.

Deise and Barone have worked to preserve the elementary school's past, gathering important photos, articles and artifacts found in the building, and placing them in a large plastic bin with a sign that says, "The history of our school community begins here." Some handmade nails and a door hinge are among other relics from the forge site.

The Rodgers forge was considered the center of the south Towson community in its heyday, and stood for more than 100 years at the southeast corner of York Road and Stevenson Lane. Rodgers set up shop as a cartwright before turning his full attention to shoeing horses.

A few generations later, according to an April 28, 1957, S unday Sun Magazine article, "the Rodgers family's forge was the best known in the whole Towson area and they specialized in shoeing only the finest riding and carriage horses."

The building that housed the forge also served as a local post office in later years, then became a candy shop and, finally, a tire store. In 1947, it was razed and replaced with a gas station. An art professor at what is now Towson University spotted the ironwork and saved it before a bulldozer pushed it into a hole, according to the 1957 article. She held onto it for nine years before donating it to the Rodgers Forge school, which was to celebrate the gift with a dedication in the library, the article stated.

When Deise arrived at Rodgers Forge almost 10 years ago, she recalled, the piece was being used as a doorstop. She kept eyeing it. "I think no one knew what it was," she said. "I suspected it had some history to it." She pushed it into a closet for better protection.

"We kept moving it around and trying to think where the safest place is," Barone said. School staff told her the piece had almost been thrown out over the years, she said.

"While the intention to donate it to the school was genuine ... I think, for its final safekeeping, it should be in a museum and not put in a closet," Barone said, referring to its current resting place in a storage room.

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