Historical place

Wilmington Historical Place: Perry’s Forge Was a Landmark | New


By Larz F. Neilson

Perry’s Forge was a real institution in East Wilmington. It was, for the farmers and the nobility of Wilmington, a much needed place of business, to which they would periodically take their horses, for new shoes. It was still a dilapidated place, with soot and coal dust from the forge. The tin signs on the walls advertised sharp products and signs, but they also covered holes.

Its location was only open farmland along Woburn Street when Asa Sheldon moved a blacksmith’s shop there in 1835. He also brought a blacksmith, John S. Perry, from Charlestown.

When Lowell Street was built, about 15 years later, it crossed Woburn Street next to the smithy. The corner took the name of the blacksmith.

Sheldon was a leading entrepreneur in the early 19th century. His autobiography, Wilmington Farmer, is in the Wilmington Library. In 1935, he was hired to dig the top of Pemberton Hill in Boston and backfill the land where the North Station would be built.

The work was done by men with oxcarts. To keep the oxen shod, Sheldon built a blacksmith’s shop in the excavation area and hired two blacksmiths. One of them was Perry.

Once the project was completed, Sheldon moved the smithy to Wilmington, where it will remain for over a century.

It was certainly a man’s world, everything one expects from a forge. There might be a deck of cards in the back room.

Despite this, there was one aspect of the store that no one would have guessed. The forge, for three quarters of its existence, belonged to women.

John S. and Martha Perry moved into the farm next to the smithy and began raising a family with 11 children, nine of them daughters. When Perry died in 1865, his son, John W. Perry, took over the operation of the store. However, since he was only 17, the building was left to his older sister, Alice, 22.

In 1871, Alice Perry married James Murray, a Civil War veteran. They had two daughters, Emma (1873) and Edith (1885). Murray opened a store in the back of their house. He then built a store on the southeast corner of Lowell and Woburn streets.

John W. Perry ran the forge, but he never owned it. Real estate valuation books from 1900 and 1910 show that his aunt, Alice J. Murray, owned it, valued at $ 600.

When Alice died, she left the forge to her daughters, Edith Symmes and Emma Murray. With Emma running the store across the street, the sisters were able to keep an eye on the forge. It is not known if there was a financial arrangement, if Perry paid rent.

In 1924 Emma married Henry W. Sargent, also known as “Henny Penny,” who owned the Darius Buck house at the end of Wildwood Street. Henry and Emma then shared the house with Edie and her husband, Herbert Symmes. Symmes’s sister, Flora, was Herb Barrows’ first wife. She died in 1907.

Wilmington had many blacksmith’s shops, but Perry’s was generally very busy. As winter came, farmers and coachmen took their horses to be shod with winter spiked shoes. Sometimes there were several horses tied up along Woburn Street. Perry would send an assistant to remove a shoe from each waiting horse, just to make sure the owner didn’t decide to take the horse somewhere else.

Shoeing horses was only part of the business. Cars were also built and repaired in the workshop. Outside, on the ground, was a granite slab on which would be placed an iron wood core. The spokes would then be placed around the hub, and the outside of the wheel would be placed around the spokes. Then the “tire” would be applied, the iron, still hot from the forge. When water was poured over the iron, the metal would retract and squeeze the wheel.

But to imply that it was all work and no play at Perry’s Forge would be incorrect. The forge was in a way a social center for many farmers. The back section, which was built after the store moved from Boston, was a place for card games and dominoes, especially on rainy afternoons when farmers couldn’t work in their fields, on the afternoon of winter, more than summer.

There was Carl Pettengill, Charlie Sargent, Charlie Blaisdell and Herb Barrows, to name a few. Herb was the best domino player by all accounts, and dominoes are not the simple game some people would be led to believe. With Herb Barrows, it was really a game of skill. He could, almost at will, block all openings available to other players.

There was also whist, not today’s bridge, but old-fashioned whist where the last card was turned over and would become an asset. Of course, there were always bets on the outcome. It was a big part of the game – no big bets, but bets nonetheless.

And where there are horses, there will also be races. These farmers knew their horses, and they always had one or two reserved for the sole purpose of pulling the family buggy, or maybe for racing. Herb Barrows has always had one of the best horses. He and Charlie Blaisdell, both very nervous and athletic, used to run from the corner of Main Street to the Forge, along Lowell Street, almost on any occasion.

John W. Perry died in 1926. Other blacksmiths then ran the shop. One of them was Morris Laffin. It was still there in 1940, but the forge had disappeared by 1950.

Emma ran the store until her death in 1954. The following year it was sold to John Lucci, who opened his business there in early 1956. Lucci’s family now owns three corners of the intersection.

The corner where the forge stood for over a century, owned for nearly 20 years by developer Michael Howland, will soon become the site of a new restaurant.


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