Delaware Agricultural Museum
Delaware Agricultural Museum

Johnson & Son Blacksmith (ca. 1850)/

Wheelwright Shop (ca. 1886)

The blacksmith/wheelwright shop was originally located halfway between Milford and Greenwood near Staytonsville (Cedar Creek Hundred) in Sussex County, Delaware. The building was used by three generations of the Johnson family and was known historically as "Johnson's Blacksmith Shop." The blacksmith shop portion was built by Alexander Johnson (ca.1807-1886) around 1850. Alexander was a farmer, but like most rural farmers he probably found that it was useful to be able to repair and make his own tools and shoe his own horses.

By 1870, it appears that Alexander was engaged in the blacksmithing and wheelwrighting trade as a full-time business. The 1860 Delaware census lists him as a farmer, while the 1870 census lists him as a wheelwright. By 1880, his son William (1852-1911) had taken over the business, which by then also included a Charles Warren as an employee. Family tradition says that William added the wagon making and wheelwrighting shop to the building around the time of Alexander's death in 1886. William specialized in making farm wagons and carts, although he probably repaired factory-built carriages and buggies as well. His wagons were sold throughout Kent and Sussex Counties and parts of Maryland's Eastern shore.

The last owner of the shop, Howard Johnson (born in 1884) made the final Johnson wagon in the late 1920s but continued blacksmithing until his death in 1965. He was also a farmer for many years, mainly growing strawberries. The blacksmith/ wheelwright shop was moved to the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village in 1980 through the generosity of the daughter of Howard Johnson, Mrs. Vinal (Cathel) Bennett.

This building is typical of blacksmith shops found throughout rural America. Blacksmith shops were usually filled with all sorts of clutter, from broken pieces of equipment awaiting repair to scrap iron, horseshoes, and a wide variety of tools. To reduce the risk of fire, a dirt floor was commonly used. The high, open ceiling allowed smoke and fumes to escape. For most blacksmiths and wheelwrights in the late 1800s, the main source of business in addition to making iron parts for wagons and tires for wheels, was probably horse shoeing, fixing harness, and sharpening and repairing farm tools.

Where to Find Us:

Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village
866 N Dupont Hwy
Dover, DE 19901
 

Daily Hours: 

Tues. to Sat. 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Closed Sunday & Monday

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