Visitors to the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village now will be able to see an up-close look at how blacksmiths and woodworkers mastered their crafts as settlers back in the 1800s and 1900s.
Guests will be able to glimpse the tools used back then — whether the craftsmen were pulling forge bellows and shaping hot steel, or operating a foot-powered treadle lathe and turning wood.
The museum, located at 15602 Pioneer Museum Road in Dade City, recently added a full-fledged blacksmith shop and wood wright shop to its extensive collection of reenactment building exhibits.
The new shops were officially unveiled at a dedication ceremony last month at the museum property.
Materials and hand tools for both shops were donated by Paul Rhinesmith, a longtime museum demonstrator and trustee. Both exhibits were named for him.
The new additions took about a year to complete and furnish — as well as replicate something seen at the turn of the century, said Pioneer Museum board president Seth Mann.
Previously, the museum didn’t have any actual working forge or wood wright shop, so smaller blacksmith and woodsmith demonstrations would take place at the museum’s Mabel Jordan Barn, which houses collections of early farm equipment, vintage buggies and carriages.
So, for Mann and other trustees, the new shops make for “a beautiful addition” to the 20-acre museum property that houses an old schoolhouse, a church, an original settler’s home, a general store, a shoe repair shop, a citrus packing house, a train depot and more.
The blacksmith shop measures 24-by-24 feet and the wood wright shop is 24-by-32 feet.
The museum acquired Dade City road bricks to put in the floor of the blacksmith shop, and used beams from one of the railroads, in the building.
The wood wright shop, meanwhile, contains cypress wood from the porch of a historic log cabin in Lacoochee, that soon will be moved to the museum property.
“We try to show people what the businesses looked like,” Mann said. “In historic Pasco, the carpentry shop and the blacksmith shop would’ve been major businesses downtown.”
The museum couldn’t survive without donations from community members, such as the Rhinesmith family, Mann said.
“Most of the buildings and exhibits we have here are contributed, even the land was contributed,” the museum board president said. “It takes the volunteers to come out here and work, the board members, the trustees — we all have to work to try to make the museum a success.”
Rhinesmith, 86, suffers from a rare eye disease and lives in an assisted living facility in Zephyrhills.
But, he and his family were at the dedication ceremony.
His son, Phillip Rhinesmith, said the longtime volunteer dreamed of the museum having standalone blacksmith and woodworking shops when he did demonstrations in the 1990s and the 2000s, up until he began losing his eyesight.
“He knew he wouldn’t be able to demonstrate but still wanted to be able to show his support and donate to the museum,” Phillip Rhinesmith said.
Phillip Rhinesmith said boxes upon boxes of hand tools donated were collected or handmade by his father over many decades.
That includes an extensive collection of rare, vintage Stanley woodworking planes the elder Rhinesmith crafted himself for various projects.
“Everything he built, there were no power tools, no sandpaper, no nails. Everything was friction fit together,” Phillip Rhinesmith said. “He knew if he needed a specific tool for a job, he would copy old designs out of old books and build the planes himself. It’s pretty incredible.”
The son added, “The legacy that he leaves with his tools here, most his collection, it means a lot to the family to be a part of this community.”
Bill Holmes is a new volunteer docent at the wood wright shop and a veteran carpenter.
He said many of Rhinesmith’s donated tools, like a foot-powered treadle lathe, are so rare that he’s only seen them in books or on television.
“The guy was such a craftsman to get this together, to be able to use this stuff,” Holmes said. “All these tools, they’re still in impeccable shape. I can still use them today. A lot of times when you see these tools they’re so beat up, but these are impeccable working pieces.”
Fellow volunteer docent Steve Melton, who helps operate the blacksmith shop, was likewise impressed with Rhinesmith’s collection of donated hand tools, calling them “the real deal.”
Melton added both shops — and the many the items in them — are important for educating schoolchildren that visit the museum each year.
“This introduces to them a lot of the heritage arts,” Melton said, “and so it is just a remarkable addition to this community.”
To learn more about the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village, visit PioneerFloridaMuseum.org.
Published June 19, 2019
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