Mt. Angel blacksmith shop gets grant to begin repairs
For decades, Mt. Angel's Windischar's General Blacksmith was one of the last operating blacksmith shops in Oregon, and the West Coast. Today, Mt. Angel history enthusiasts and the Windischar and Weissenfels families plan to shore up parts of the 106-year-old building in need of vital repairs.
In June, the aging blacksmith building at Sheridan and Southeast Church streets in the small Marion County town got a $2,149 state historic preservation grant to fund part of the work. The building's owners, Mt. Angel's Historical Society and others will try to raise more money to pay for the estimated $19,698 project. The state money will help repair the building's southeast corner, where decades of wear have taken a toll.
It won't be enough to do all the repairs, but it will get the projects started. Nancy Lehto of Monmonth, daughter of the building's owners, said a new nonprofit organization could be created to collect future donations. Plans are to form a new nonprofit soon to begin that process, Lehto said.
"We definitely want help to preserve this blacksmith shop, not only because our grandfather ran it for 60 years, but because it is an integral part of Oregon's small town and rural history," Lehto said.
The rusty-red building at the corner near downtown Mt. Angel was built between 1902 and 1905 for John Windischar, who operated a blacksmith shop there. Seventeen years later, it was expanded, with the addition of a barn and a 13-foot connection to the rear of the building.
Windischar sold the building in 1914 and moved to Portland to work in the shipyards. Five years later, Anton and Louis Weissenfels bought the building and opened a new blacksmith shop. Louis Weissenfels (known to friends and neighbors as Louie) moved into the larger building in 1922, working as a blacksmith under natural light shining through a handful of skylights and in front of a brick forge until he retired in 1979 as one of the last working blacksmiths in Oregon.
Popular during Oktoberfest
In 1981, the old building was named to the National Register of Historic Places as an example of a turn-of-the-century industrial property. Nancy Lehto helped write the complicated several-page historic property nomination form with her mother, Mary Lou Bartosz, who owns part of the building.
Louis Weissenfels' daughters — Mary Lou Bartosz, Gert Aman and Helen Ehil — took over the building after his retirement. Lehto said Aman operated a gift shop in the building called Louie's Corner, providing some money to maintain the property. For many years, other family members have repaired parts of the structure. They've also worked to keep it open to the public, especially during Mt. Angel's annual Oktoberfest, Lehto said. It's a popular spot for festivalgoers and part of the Mt. Angel Historical Society's walking tour.
In 1981, the family paid for major repairs to the building. According to the state grant application, the structure was placed on concrete piers, damaged siding was replaced and a new roof was installed. During the past several years, weather and the building's age have damaged the structure, causing its southeast corner to sink. That's the work that will be done right now with the state funds, Lehto said.
To help fund the overall project, Lehto said the family plans to sell T-shirts commemorating the shop's history during this year's Oktoberfest, Sept. 16 to 19.
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