Firefighters from four counties are on the scene of a huge fire that has heavily damaged the landmark Wendell August Forge near Grove City, Mercer County.
Companies from Mercer, Lawrence, Venango and Butler counties are combating the blaze, which broke out shortly before 3 p.m. at the metal manufacturer near Interstate 79. Smoke from the fierce fire could be seen for miles, and word of the blaze spread almost as quickly among fans of its wares, who used Facebook postings to alert each other.
A cause of the fire and damage estimate were not immediately available, but witnesses said the forge has burned nearly to the ground. The forge long has been a popular tourist attraction.
The forge's craftspeople make ornaments, trays, bowls, figurines and coasters. Its products, made of pewter, bronze, aluminum and copper, are hammered into hand-carved steel dies in a process called "reposse."
The die is a shaping model that imprints the design into the item being made. Wendell August is the first creator of this process and the only working forge in Pennsylvania, said Laurie Kerkering, co-manager of the Exton store, one of four the forge operates.
After moving to Grove City in 1932, the forge survived the Depression by making aluminum grills, lights and other fixtures for area banks. Before creating its novelty line of art and giftware, it made fixtures for the Stouffer restaurant chain and passenger ships.