History

Blacksmith shop at Sutter’s Fort to be restored

The blacksmith shop at Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, Calif., is undergoing its first renovation since the 1890s.
The blacksmith shop at Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, Calif., is undergoing its first renovation since the 1890s. Sacramento Bee file

The first time Sutter’s Fort was restored, in the 1890s, the blacksmith shop was one of the first exhibit rooms to receive attention.

Blacksmithing was a critical profession on the frontier, necessary to transform raw materials into essential items such as nails, locks, hinges, latches, horseshoes, wheels and materials for weapons.

“John Sutter prided himself on having a blacksmith at Sutter’s Fort,” said Matthew Bellah, superintendent for the California State Parks Capitol District.

Ever since that first restoration, the blacksmith shop has been a popular destination for schoolchildren and other visitors who come to learn the history of the fort, which was built by Swiss immigrant John Sutter on a land grant from the government of Mexico, of which California was part at the time. Docents interact with visitors and perform blacksmith work as it would have been practiced in the 1840s, when John Sutter’s fort, which he called New Helvetia, was bustling as a destination for pioneers.

Now the blacksmith shop will be overhauled once again as part of an ongoing renovation that began with the fort’s roof in 2013. It is the fort’s largest renovation since that first one in the 1890s. More than $1 million has been spent on such items as the exterior walls, seismic stabilization, drainage, pathways, gates and exterior lighting for the complex at 27th and L streets.

“More projects are lined up as part of the restoration effort,” Bellah said. “The end goal is preservation.”

The money funding the park’s various restoration projects comes from a combination of public funds and private donations with the support of California State Parks, Friends of Sutter’s Fort and private donors, according to the Sutter’s Fort website.

The $26,000 for the blacksmith shop overhaul will be paid by the Sacramento Pioneer Association, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Sacramento’s history. The effort will start in August and be completed by fall.

All artifacts and exhibit furniture will be removed, cleaned and repaired if necessary, according to a news release. In addition, the floor will be leveled and resurfaced with soil cement. The interior walls, windows and entrance doors will be cleaned, repaired and painted. The chimney will be reworked and the firebox will be fixed.

The Sacramento Pioneer Association has had a longstanding relationship with Sutter’s Fort, assisting in the initial effort to save it from demolition in 1889. The fort had fallen into disrepair after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s sawmill. Prospectors overran the fort, and workers deserted to the Sierra foothills in search of fortune.

Wendel Robert Flint, the group’s president said, “The Pioneers are proud to continue the relationship forged so long ago with Sutter and his fort through our sole sponsorship of the restoration of the blacksmith’s shop.”

The fort is visited by about 100,000 people every year, tens of thousands them schoolchildren. “The blacksmith shop offers these children a chance to make history come alive so that it’s not just a page in a textbook or a static exhibit,” Bellah said.

Emily King: 916-321-1038

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