Snapshot of the 1800s re-enacted on North Side
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On a picture-perfect evening, 50 East Alleghenians and special guests turned out to honor the history and future of a building, its people and a horse.
Photographer Joe Renckly, a North Sider himself, set his tripod in the street at Suismon and Middle. Cars edged by, drivers ogling the gathering that included children in an open window, its frame fresh with yellow paint.Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
Joe Renckly directs a photograph of a former blacksmith shop at Suismon and Middle streets on the North Side. It is now renovated and planned for commercial studio space.
Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
The photo is a re-enactment of a late 1800s photo of the original shop, shown below by Sally Flynn, great-granddaughter of the original owner.
Click photo for larger image.
In the crowd was Sally Flynn. The building was her great-grandfather's blacksmith shop. John Schmittdiel made horseshoes there in the 1860s and '70s.
Bob Baumbach and Jen Saffron bought it in 2003. They stood in the crowd beside Duke, a winsome palomino who lifted his head as a breeze blew his hair from his eyes at the moment Mr. Renckly called out, "Beautiful!" and froze the moment for posterity.
An undated, dingy photo from the late 1800s shows an assembly of similar size, smokestacks in the background. The men wear somber working faces and hats. A light-colored horse stands without fanfare in the background.
Mr. Schmittdiel made horseshoes for clients throughout what was then Allegheny City. One client was the Eberhardt & Ober Brewing Co., now the Pennsylvania Brewing Co., in Troy Hill.
"We found an invoice from 1884," said Mr. Baumbach. "It was a quarterly bill to the brewery for $78 for 140 shoes."
He and his wife live in the neighborhood in a house they renovated. They have renovated the blacksmith building as commercial studio space and traced its origin to 1867.
When they began its renovation, Randy Strothman, who lives nearby, approached them with a copy of the photo and said, "Wouldn't it be cool to replicate this?"
Bette McDevitt, a writer from the neighborhood, found a copy of the photo as she was researching a story about the building's history for the winter issue of Western Pennsylvania History magazine. The photo bore the name of a Grace Flynn of Bellevue, and she found Sally Flynn in the phone book.
"I told Bob and Jen we needed a modern picture in front of the place," she said. "They liked the idea" and expanded it to be a community event and the building's grand reopening.
Ms. McDevitt found Duke through the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. He was rescued in 2004 from a mud hole in Penn Hills. So used to drinking from his own hoof puddles, it took a while for him to appreciate fresh water, said Randy Cinski of the 6-year-old horse. She and her 15-year-old daughter, Spencer Turnblacer, have rehabilitated him at their farm in Valencia. "When we first got him, you couldn't go in the barn with him." On the street Tuesday, residents gathered to pat his ribs.
A horse attracted no special attention in the 19th century, when East Allegheny was a one-stop shop for horseshoes, tack, grain and carriages. Several years ago, bottle diggers in Mr. Strothman's back yard discovered four horse heads in the well of an old outhouse.
Grisly, too, was the fate of Mr. Schmittdiel. He was murdered sometime in the 1880s. His body was found in the Allegheny River.
"As far as we can tell, the case was never solved," said Ms. Flynn, who brought her nephew and his wife to the event. "I remember my grandmother talking about him. His wife was Sophia, they had eight children and they lived in that house," she said, of a residence beside the shop.
"I feel a connection to it," she said. "But I didn't know it was still here until Bette called." Gazing at the freshly pointed and cleaned building with tall windows reflecting sunset, she said, "My grandmother. Gosh. How she would feel to know it was still here."
First Published September 25, 2006 12:00 am