Historic Forge Burns to the Ground
Wendell August Forge owner Frank W. "Will" Knecht looks over memorabilia, records and other items salvaged from Saturday's fire.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via YellowBrix
March 08, 2010
GROVE CITY — The Wendell August Forge, an American institution that has furnished generations of families with its hand-cast decorative ornaments and plates, burned to the ground Saturday afternoon.
About 25 employees and 15 tourists and shoppers were in the building when the fire started. They all escaped unharmed.
The fire started around 2 p.m. in a workshop where an employee was spraying a lacquer on the company’s bronze pieces. The blaze quickly spread to other parts of the 25,000-square-foot cinderblock structure, which houses the factory and gift shop.
“It was pretty well done pretty much in an hour,” said Grove City fire Chief Jeff Badger.
The entire back half of the building collapsed within a couple of hours, leaving a heap of ashen rubble.
“It has been a tough day for this community and our employees. We are so thankful and blessed that no one was hurt,” said company president Frank W. “Will” Knecht.
Mr. Knecht said he was relieved when he learned that the forge’s more than 2,000 unique dies had been spared, preserved in a vault. The dies are shaping models made of steel that imprint designs into the items being made.
He said the company is more than a business.
“This company is not just a purveyor of goods. We’re preserving history, American craftsmanship,” he said.
Wendell August Forge is the only remaining manufacturer of its kind in the United States, according to the company.
Mr. Knecht said the company plans to rebuild as soon as possible.
The factory — a tourist attraction in which people would walk among the craftspeople — is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to its website, Wendell August Forge was founded in Brockway, Jefferson County, in 1923 and moved to Grove City in 1934.