Articles & Stories


The Old Art Of Blacksmithing
Now Part Of Ky.'s History
Working A Ten-Hour Day, Roy A. Barnett Ran The Only
Blacksmith Shop In Salem, Livingston County, For 50 Years

By Hazel Robertson - 2004

Many years ago the incessant clang of the blacksmith's hammer on the anvil was a familiar sound heard all through the day in most little towns. Those days have gone forever now that horses are no longer the means of transportation, and farming is no longer done with horse-drawn equipment.
Farm machinery repairs are usually taken care of by the equipment dealers; and pleasure horseshoeing is done by farriers, mostly by cold shoeing, which is the use of keg (ready-made) shoes, bought in assorted sizes and shapes. The nearest size is selected and the horse's foot is trimmed to fit the shoe. A few farriers, however, still use a forge and make the shoes to fit the feet, especially for draft horses or those with problem feet.

Roy Autenburg Barnett, 20, and Flora Tyner, 16. This photo was made in 1906 prior to their marriage in 1907, in Salem.
(Photo courtesy of the author.)

Though there have been others, the only blacksmith that present-day residents of Salem, Livingston County, Kentucky, can remember is Mr. Roy A. Barnett; who started working in the shop for Montgomery "Doc" Grassham in 1904. In 1913 he built his own shop where Salem City Hall is now located, and from then on he was the only blacksmith in the immediate Salem area. It was hard to keep up with the necessary work, even working a ten-hour day, six days a week. He lasted over 50 years, working until a short time before his death in 1959 at age 73.
In the early days Mr. Barnett took pride in the fact that he could shoe 15 to 16 horses in a day; which included examination, measuring, trimming each horse's foot to an even size, and then making and nailing on the shoes. He sharpened plow points and mowing blade sections by the thousands during his time, in addition to emergency repairing of farm machinery, etc.
Standing long hours over the hot forge and handling the red hot iron must have been torture in the summer months. He was a rather heavy man and standing all day finally damaged the arches in his feet and caused much pain. Severe back pain came as a result of bending, and just before his retirement he had to stop shoeing horses entirely. He was such a tolerant, jovial person, one would not suspect the pain he must have suffered.

The Salem Blacksmith Shop, Livingston County, Kentucky. L-R: Charlie Ryan, Fred Hayden, Ira Gilland, and Roy Barnett. The child is Creed Barnett. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

I remember when I was barely of school age, Dad would be busy on the farm and would give me a dime to spend, put me on one horse, tie another to the saddle horn, and send me the mile-and-a-half to town to get the horses shod. Mr. Roy would come out, take me off the horse, give me a nickel or dime, and tell me to go up town and stay for awhile, and come back. By the time I visited all the stores it seemed that I managed to come home with extra money and a bag of "goodies" every time. When I could see my horses tied outside the shop I knew it was time to go home. Mr. Roy would put me back in the saddle, tell me to be careful, and send me on my way. I thought he was great, and I always remembered how gentle he was with the horses, making sure they were standing as comfortably as possible on three legs while he worked.
Roy Autenburg Barnett was born near Salem in 1886. He was the son of the fifth generation of the Samuel S. Barnetts. The earlier generations had migrated from the British Isles to North Carolina in 1718. Roy's grandfather, Samuel S. Barnett IV, and a brother, John, started from North Carolina to California in 1801 traveling by an ox-drawn covered wagon. They got to Livingston County and stopped to spend the winter. John went on later, but Samuel IV remained in Lola, until his death in 1879 at age 62, after having outlived five wives. Roy's father, Samuel S. Barnett V, was born to the third wife. He died when Roy was age two, leaving his wife, Malissa Burkiow Barnett, to rear their two children.

This eight-mule hitch, belonging to Henry Moore of Crittenden County, Kentucky, pulled a steam boiler and other machinery used for wheat thrashing. The man at the extreme right is thought to be Henry Moore, the others are unknown. The photo was made in Salem in 1911-1912 in front of the first Salem Bank, which opened in January 1903. The telephone office was housed on the second floor, which opened in 1911. The telephone line to the upper floor is evident in the picture. Felix G. Cox and son operated the hardware store next door to the bank. Shortly after this photo was taken Henry Moore and his brother-in-law, Thomas H. Carter, who were both morticians, purchased the hardware from Mr. Cox and operated an undertaking business, along with the hardware store, for a short period. Henry Moore (1872-1946) and wife, Lelia Carter, were the grandparents of Salem resident, John Weaver, who supplied this photo.

In 1907 Roy married Flora Tyner, the daughter of Napolean and Caroline Bryan Tyner, and continued to live in Salem. They reared five children: Creed, Beulah Nell, Ralph, Willa Belle, and Eva Gene. Miss Flora lived to be 100 years old, with a good mind and reasonably good health to the last. I remembered Creed well from my early childhood, since he worked for my dad on the farm when he was very young. Ralph and Willa Belle became my close friends as we grew up. This was a lovely family. All are deceased now, except for Eva Gene Aleborn.

Hazel Robertson, 420 Alley Lane, Salem, KY 42078, shares this article with our readers. Ms. Robertson is a regular contributor to The Kentucky Explorer.