From the vault: G. Krug & Son, Baltimore’s oldest blacksmith

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What’s a 19th-century blacksmith shop doing in the middle of Baltimore? That’s the question on the mind of many visitors who wander into G. Krug & Son, a blacksmith shop on Saratoga Street near Lexington Market. The owner once boasted that there can hardly be a building in Baltimore that doesn’t contain something from his shop, even if it was only a nail.

Baltimore boasts several of the U.S.A.’s “oldest continually-run” institutions. There’s the bar (The Horse You Rode in On Saloon), the tattoo parlor (Charlie’s), heck, even the jail. Here’s another one for the list: G. Krug & Son, which has been forging and welding Baltimore’s nails, locks, rails, and more since 1810.

When he comes to work in the morning, Peter Krug is carrying on a centuries-old tradition begun by his great great grandfather, Gustav Krug, who emigrated to the United States from Germany in the last century. After initially working as a journeyman in Pennsylvania, the elder Krug ended up in Baltimore as a master blacksmith at Andrew Merker Blacksmiths, which opened in 1810. When Andrew Merker passed away, he took over the business and gave it his own name.

Throughout much of history, blacksmith shops like G. Krug & Son were essential for any city to arise. (Where else would you get your nails?) While blacksmiths no longer play the essential role they once did, G. Krug & Son remain in business partly thanks to the plentiful restoration work they do.

“It is a really neat feeling,” Krug says, of continuing the legacy begun by his ancestors. “It is something that’s a rarity and you really do take pride in. I want to see it continue.”

He has help with that from Travis Manar, age 20, a former historical reenactor who today works as a blacksmith at G. Krug & Son. In the workshop, Manar demonstrates the craft for visitors (the shop recently opened a museum), heating up metal to the thousands of degrees necessary before it’s pliable — then twisting and manipulating into the shapes seen adorning railings and windows of Baltimore.

Manar’s shapes are fairly simple: a scroll, or a twist. But upstairs in the shop’s “brag room,” a visitor sees examples of some of the more ornate designs from years ago. Screens for bank windows. Railings for fire escapes. Candelabras, fire sticks. An old ledger book includes order numbers for double doors at the Walters Gallery in 1917, and a fire escape on North Gay Street.

Turning a straight metal into an organic curved shape is among the most challenging tasks a blacksmith faces. That — and avoiding burns. “As a blacksmith, you have to expect that you will get burned at some point,” says Manar. “It’s a matter of learning how to avoid it.”

Forging tradition at G. Krug & Son, the U.S.A.'s oldest continually-run blacksmith shop from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.