History of the  West Park
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio

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Tom Ward, West Park Blacksmith
by Gary Swilik

Tom Ward's blacksmith shop, Lorain Avenue new W. 149th Street.  Undated photograph.
Courtesy of Joan Kosky & Gene O'Connell, Tech Imaging Services.

Tom Ward's blacksmith shop (right) and auto wrecking yard as it looked November 30, 1943.
Lorain Avenue, foreground, is paved with brick and lined with streetcar tracks.

Tom V.Ward at the anvil in his blacksmith shop at 14121 Lorain Avenue.  Date unknown.
Probably late 1930s or early 1940s. 
Courtesy of Joan Kosky & Gene O'Connell, Tech Imaging Services.

For nearly half a century Tom Ward's blacksmith shop was a landmark in West Park. The one-story wood building was located on the south side of Lorain Avenue between West 140th and West 143rd, near the present site of Burger King. Older residents still recall the clang of metal-on-metal echoing through the neighborhood as Tom hammered at his anvil, shaping red-hot iron into farming utensils and wagon wheel rims.

In later years Tom turned his skills to auto repair and bodywork. His shop survived until the 1950s when it stood like a working memorial to a bygone era with a big square sliding doorway - big enough for a horse and wagon to pass through - an earthen floor and a glowing fire in the forge, the dim light faintly illuminating the dark interior of the shop. Various hammers, tongs, tools and belts could be seen hanging from the wooden walls. To the author, who remembers passing the shop as a boy, the scene looked like something from the Old West.

Thomas Victor Ward was born in Fishley, Staffordshire, England, on May 23, 1887, the son of Thomas and Mary Ann Ward. His mother passed away while Tom was still a boy leaving Thomas Sr. with several young children to raise. In 1896 Tom's father emigrated to the United States and came to West Park, Ohio, where he remarried and settled on a farm on Puritas Avenue.

Young Tom, however, remained behind in England where he worked in his uncle's pub. In 1908 he married Elsie Bantoft. The groom was 21 and the bride was 23. In 1909 Tom and Elsie also came to the US and settled near Tom's father in West Park, Ohio. Tom was already a skilled blacksmith when he arrived.

"The way I understand it, my grandfather learned to be a blacksmith in England before he came over here," says Thomas Ward, III, now of Phenix City, Alabama.

By 1913, Tom and Elsie Ward were the parents of two children, George and Myrtle. In 1915 Tom opened his first blacksmith shop at a busy crossroads in the center of West Park.

"My grandfather's first shop was on the south side of Lorain Avenue almost directly across from the Masonic Temple at the intersection of Triskett," remembers Thomas Ward III. "My father showed me the site when I was young."

(Unfortunately, Tom's father, Thomas Ward the first, was not alive to see his son go into business. In 1913 he had been killed while crossing the railroad tracks in his horse-drawn wagon on Herrington Road, now West 150th Street. Such tragedies were an all too common occurrence in the days when many railroad lines passed through West Park at street level.)

Left:  West Park blacksmith Thomas V. Ward with his wife, Elsie, and
the first-born child, George W. Ward. Circas 1911.

Courtesy of Joan Kosky & Gene O'Connell, Tech Imaging Services s

In about 1923 Tom Ward moved his blacksmith shop to 14121 Lorain Avenue (just east of the present Burger King) where he would remain in business for the next 35 years. He made his living by hammering, bending, and cutting metal to create whatever tools or objects his customers needed. Tom and his family lived nearby on San Diego Avenue. Later they moved to a home on Lorain Avenue next to the shop.

Tom was very active in the local Masonic Lodge and the Forest City Commandery. He and his wife Elsie were long-time members of St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Triskett Road.

Of course, blacksmiths are best known for fitting horseshoes and repairing wagons. Horses and horse-drawn wagons were still a common form of transportation in the early 1900s. Not surprisingly, our earliest photo of Tom Ward's blacksmith shop shows he offered "practical horse shoeing and general wagon repairing."

Unfortunately for Tom, horses and buggies were rapidly being replaced by the automobile. At one time only the wealthy could afford one of the new "horseless carriages" but by 1914 Henry Ford's Model T, selling for $490, was bringing the auto within range of the average family. By 1920, one in ten Ohioans owned an automobile and Cleveland ranked 7th nationwide in the greatest relative number of cars.

The local blacksmith had become an endangered species and Tom knew it. He changed with the times and applied his blacksmithing skills to the auto industry, repairing cars, doing auto body work, and operating a small junkyard.

"He needed some truck parts for repairs," explains Thomas Ward III. "He advertised for trucks and got so many calls he said 'the heck with it' and just opened a junkyard."

"He needed some truck parts for repairs," explains Thomas Ward III. "He advertised for trucks and got so many calls he said 'the heck with it' and just opened a junkyard."

Right:  Tom V. Ward's blacksmith shop at 14121 Lorain Avenue.  Photo undated.  Courtesy of Tim and Lucy Perdue.

"He also sold used cars and had them sitting on the lot," says Tom Ward's granddaughter Joan Kosky, now of Rockport, Massachusetts. "He repaired cars, too, but he was more than a mechanic. He did bodywork, fixed accident damage, did welding and painting. To the left of the shop was what we called the 'junkyard.' "We would sit in the cars and pretend we were driving. Even at this time, about 1939 or 1940, my grandfather still shod a horse occasionally."

"During the war he made car jacks for the military," Joan remembers. "He hooked up a revolving wheel and I would put metal pieces in the empty spaces, then he would turn the wheel, and that would bring around red-hot finished pieces of metal. I wore big gloves and would take them out and drop them in a bucket. That was the first money I ever made."

In the movies a blacksmith is usually portrayed as a thick-armed, powerful fellow, a result of many years of hard labor at the forge. And Tom Ward fits the classic image.

"I remember a story that one time a guy was giving my grandfather a real hard time over a horse being shoed," recalls Thomas Ward III. "My grandfather hit him so hard he ended up in the middle of Lorain Avenue. But I never heard anyone say a derogatory word about my grandfather."

"He was gregarious, honest, and hard-working," says Joan Kosky. "He wasn't tall but had arms on him like you wouldn't believe and was very strong. I watched him pound red hot metal on the anvil, sparks flying, many times."

"My grandfather was short and stocky with big arms," says another descendent, William G. Ward, of Avon Lake, Ohio. "You wouldn't have wanted to tangle with him. I was in his shop many times. The forge was on the west side as you walked in. The anvil was right there, too."

"I worked at the shop until I was 14 or 15, basically cleaning up and playing," William laughs. "That's where I learned to drive, playing in my grandfather's tow truck. He was more into cars by then but still did some blacksmithing. He did work for the National Metal and Abrasive Company across the street. He also did some work for the City of Cleveland, making tools I think. And produced architectural metalwork for the local building industry."

"I remember helping my grandfather makes some figures for the bowling alley at the southeast corner of West 130th and Brookpark Road," William goes on. "Figures of people bowling, just stick figures, made out of flat iron. They were mounted on the wall of the bowling alley. I heard they might still be in the basement of the building but I have no idea."

(The author contacted the bowling alley and made a determined but unsuccessful effort to locate these figures.)

Although there must have been a time when Tom Ward manually hammered at the anvil, his grandson recalls that the operation was later mechanized.

"The 'big hammer' was operated by a four-inch belt," explains Thomas Ward III. "There was a big foot pedal that worked the hammer. The same belt also operated a grinder and a huge drill press."

"Tom Ward's blacksmith shop was right behind my grandparent's house," recalls Jack Keane who grew up in the neighborhood and still lives nearby. "I never saw a horse in there but I saw him hammering horseshoes on the anvil. He collected old cars for junk and would do car repairs but I remember seeing 3 or 4 old buggies still stored at the west corner of the lot."

"My brother Alfred and I used to help Tom around the shop," Jack continues. "In return he gave us an old Model A Ford. It was beat up but running. I used to have a photo of my wife and I sitting on the bumper."

Tom Ward and his wife Elsie lived in West Park until about 1955 when they moved to North Olmsted, Ohio. However Tom continued to commute to his combination blacksmith shop and used car lot on Lorain Avenue. He didn't retire completely until 1958. In September, 1959, Tom sold the shop and land to local businessman Sam Columbo, who then owned most of the lots along that section of Lorain Avenue. The shop was torn down in the early 1960s when Columbo put up the modern buildings and parking lot that still occupy much of the site today.

Tom and Elsie Ward eventually moved further west, to Wallace Road in North Ridgeville, Lorain County, Ohio, where Tom was living when he passed away in 1961 at the age of 74 years. In addition to his wife, his son George and daughter Myrtle Kosky, he left nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

"We all loved my grandfather," says Thomas Ward III. "He loved all us kids and liked to have us in the shop working with him."

"I adored him," says Joan Kosky. "If you could pick a grandfather, he is the one you would pick. I still have an engagement present he made for my grandmother. A beautiful wood case holding miniature replicas of all his blacksmithing tools."

Tom's wife Elsie died in 1969, a great-grandmother of thirteen. Tom and Elsie Ward are buried side-by-side at Sunset Memorial Cemetery in North Olmsted, Ohio.

The 150-pound anvil, used for so many years by Tom Ward to straighten horse shoes and mend wagon wheels, now resides in the garage of his great-grandson, Timothy Perdue of Elyria, Ohio.

"The anvil came into my father's possession when my grandfather passed away," explains Tim. "It's been stored on wood blocks in a little wagon in my garage for years."

Aside from a light coating of rust, the anvil looks much the same as it did when it sat in Tom Ward's blacksmith shop in West Park, Ohio.

Tom V. Ward's 150 pound anvil from his blacksmith shop.
The anvil is now owned by Tom's great-grandson Ken Perdue of Avon Lake, Ohio.
Photograph courtesy of Tim and Lucy Perdu

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Updated 17 July 2014