Amenia’s Village Smithy, 50 years at the Forge
This reminiscence of Paul Maier, Amenia blacksmith was contributed by his son Richard, now retired and living in Indiana.
The year was 1928 when a young man of 22 years lived his dream of moving to a country where he had heard “all you have to do is pick up the gold off the streets.” The country he left…Germany…the country where the gold “was”…the United States…the young man…Paul Maier.
An older brother had preceded him to America. This brother, upon completion of processing at Ellis Island, heard of available farm work in an area about 100 miles to the north. The year…1926…the farm…Hiddenhurst, a beautiful estate just north of Amenia. The work was hard, the hours long, and the pay was $1.00 a day, but it was the opportunity for a future not available in the then economic strife-ridden Germany. Paul knew he would join his brother in America.
Once he arrived at Hiddenhurst, Paul, a blacksmith by trade, saw the opportunity to be the blacksmith for the farm. He left milking cows and working in the fields for shoeing the workhorses and making repairs to the equipment as needed. It became a full time job. Of the $30.00 per month income, he kept $5.00 for “incidentals” and sent the rest to his mother and father in Germany to help feed and clothe the remaining family of nine.
Then, he had to face the results of the great depression that began in 1929. In the cities hundreds of thousands of people were out of work; there just weren’t any jobs available. But there was need for farming, and Paul was fortunate to have his trade. By 1932, Paul had saved enough money to send for Helen, his German girlfriend who would become his wife. He purchased a rundown home with a shed in Amenia for $5000. The shed would become his first blacksmith shop. A large investment for the time and, it was in the middle of the depression. But all things considered, with a trade and a supportive wife, life was good. As Paul plied his trade, his excellent work and work ethic resulted in a growing business. There were times when he even had to turn down work.
While much of his ironwork was done at his shop half way up DeLaVergne Hill, he did many farm jobs right on site. He had converted an old pre-war Ford truck to carry his forge, anvil and other equipment so he could set up for work under a spreading tree along the road to the farmer’s barnyard.
His occasional visits to farms around the area were big events for Amenia farm children. Joe Duffy and his sisters Margaret and Alice recall the excitement of Mr. Maier gracefully handling their father’s two massive draft horses, Simon and Jerry, as he shed them outside the Spingarn barn in Leedsville.
As tractors started to replace horses for farming, Paul’s smithery became more involved in hackney horses. He was frequently called on by the Equestrian Center and Chauncey Stillman, who was noted for his carriages that graced the grounds of the Wethersfield estate.
Having gotten some not-so-fresh eggs at the grocery store one day, Paul bought two chickens from a customer. Thirty years later, Paul had 5,000 chickens and had been in the chicken and egg business all those years, while still maintaining his beloved blacksmithing trade. He and Helen had three children; Ursula Sonnenberg, who now resides in Hyde Park, Richard P., who as a boy helped his father blacksmith, but never followed the trade, and Tillie (Maier) Incorvia, who still lives on DeLaVergne Hill.
Paul’s ornamental ironwork and craftsmanship can still be seen in various parts of eastern Dutchess County. The impressive gates and fencing that surround the formal gardens at Wethersfield, commissioned by Mr. Stillman are the work of a true artisan. He also crafted the gate at the entrance to the Amenia Island Cemetery on Route 343. Paul also did work for Jimmy Cagney.
Paul was an Amenia resident for over 50 years until his death in May 1987. His devoted wife Helen passed away only two months later. They both took pride in their town and helped make Amenia a memorable place.