A look inside the Blacksmith Shop in Old Town.

A blacksmith shapes red hot iron at a forge in San Diego's historic Old Town.
A blacksmith shapes red hot iron at a forge in San Diego’s historic Old Town.

Yesterday I lingered for a few minutes at the Blacksmith Shop in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Two forges were operating. I watched as hammers swung, making sparks fly. It was fascinating to learn about blacksmithing and its vital role in San Diego’s history.

I chatted for a bit with one of the friendly gentlemen working in the Blacksmith Shop. These days the shop is used by a handful of skilled smiths to make all sorts of ornamental and useful metal items. They’ve made objects used for display elsewhere in the State Park. They make everything but horseshoes–and that’s because none of them know how to shoe a horse!

I was told that in 19th century San Diego there were several blacksmiths; this shop now in Old Town was probably located a bit to the east, on the outskirts of town (near today’s Presidio Hills Golf Course) because of the fire danger it presented to other buildings. No blacksmith shop back then would have been as large as the one visitors see today. A blacksmith would most likely do their work in the corner of a livery stable, using one modest forge.

Please read the photo captions to learn more!

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park's Blacksmith Shop and Wood Shop at the site of the Blackhawk Livery Stables, circa 1850-1871.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park’s Blacksmith Shop and Wood Shop at the site of the Blackhawk Livery Stables, circa 1850-1871.
Visitors to Old Town learn a little about life in San Diego during the mid 1800s. Blacksmiths created assorted metal objects, made repairs and shoed horses.
Visitors to Old Town learn a little about life in San Diego during the mid 1800s. Blacksmiths created assorted metal objects, made repairs and shoed horses.
This friendly blacksmith provided lots of fascinating information. Visitors watch with interest as he works to create a pot holder.
This friendly blacksmith provided lots of fascinating information. Visitors watch with interest as he works to create a pot holder.
I learned that in early San Diego blacksmiths typically burned charcoal in their forge, as coal was usually of poor quality and difficult to obtain in Southern California.
I learned that in early San Diego blacksmiths typically burned charcoal in their forge, as coal was usually of poor quality and difficult to obtain in Southern California.
A huge bellows provides oxygen for this furnace. A good working temperature is about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
A huge bellows provides oxygen for this brick furnace. A good working temperature is about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Products that were fashioned include grills, traps, candle holders, fish roasters, knives, shovels, chains, hinges, nails, cooking ladles and horseshoes.
Products that were fashioned include iron grills, traps, candle holders, fish roasters, knives, shovels, chains, hinges, nails, cooking ladles and horseshoes.
Hammers, bars, wrenches and various blacksmithing tools hang from the rear wall, in addition to harnesses and other items one might find in a livery stable.
Hammers, bars, wrenches and various blacksmithing tools hang from the rear wall, in addition to harnesses and other items one might find in a livery stable.
The gentleman showed me some devices used to suspend pots over a fire. Everything on this wall was made by local members of blacksmithing clubs and organizations.
The gentleman showed me some devices used to suspend pots over a fire. Everything on this wall was made by local smiths in this shop.
A shiny anvil.
A shiny anvil.
This wide grassy area behind nearby Seeley Stable was once used for anvil shoots. Gunpowder was placed in a hollow indentation between two anvils and ignited, sending one anvil high into the air with a loud bang! Anvils that did not shatter were considered sound.
This wide grassy area behind nearby Seeley Stable was once used for anvil shoots. Gunpowder was placed in a hollow indentation between two anvils and ignited, sending one anvil high into the air with a loud bang! Anvils that did not shatter were considered sound.
Old Town visitor tries on a Spanish conquistador helmet made in the Blacksmith Shop.
Old Town visitor tries on a Spanish conquistador helmet made in the Blacksmith Shop.
A heavy anchor chain is shown. The welds must be as strong as the iron links.
A heavy anchor chain is shown. The welds must be as strong as the iron links themselves.
A look back at history. Skilled artisans used muscle, fire and sweat to make everyday life easier for the early residents of San Diego.
A photo of living history. Skilled artisans used muscle, fire, metal and sweat to make everyday life easier for the early residents of San Diego.

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The mostly forgotten San Diego Chess Club.

nearly forgotten san diego chess club

In 1961, the Balboa Club moved into a building near the southwest corner of Balboa Park. The building today is faded, padlocked, and seldom used. Few people now visit this once popular meeting place. It is the location of the San Diego Chess Club.

Taking a picture through a side window of empty chess club on a weekend morning.
Taking a picture through side window of empty chess club on a weekend morning.

Through a dirty window on the north side, rows of empty tables are visible. The place seems dead.

Most chess players now test their skills on virtual chessboards. Two flesh and blood players squaring off in a lively, tension-filled room across a common table has been replaced by isolated taps and clicks on small screens.

Passing years and neglect at San Diego Chess Club building in Balboa Park.
Years of neglect show at San Diego Chess Club building in Balboa Park.
Chessboard and other old images on side facing Sixth Avenue are very faded.
Chessboard and other images on side facing Sixth Avenue are faded.

Adjoining the building are numerous lonely horseshoes pits. The Balboa Park Horseshoe Club seems just as forgotten.

Unused horseshoes pits near San Diego Chess Club.
Unused horseshoes pits near San Diego Chess Club.

Walked past on a spring day… The game of horseshoes isn’t dead yet!

One fine Saturday afternoon, I finally saw folks playing horseshoes on one court!
One fine Saturday afternoon, I finally saw a handful of folks playing horseshoes!