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Anvil donated to Brooksville is part of city history

BROOKSVILLE — Call it heavy metal history.

The wear marks and a thin crack running along its side are reminders that the tool served a long, hard life. But to many in the community, the anvil presented to the city during Monday night's Brooksville City Council meeting offers a colorful lore all its own.

The anvil faithfully served its original owner, Zachariah Thomas Wilson, for more than four decades before becoming an essential tool for his grandson for another 50 years, making it a worthy keepsake from a bygone era. But, according to Brooksville resident James Brooks, few are aware of its double duty as an odd source of holiday entertainment for a bucolic farming community.

Brooks, 63, knows the anvil's distinctive history well because he watched his uncle William Wilson use it nearly every day at the Crossroads Garage, an automotive and farm equipment repair shop he operated for 37 years at Powell Road and U.S. 41.

As a child, Brooks heard tales of Fourth of July celebrations that took place decades before he was born. For years, the community lined up across the street from Wilson's blacksmith shop on Broad Street to watch the anvil be blown skyward by a charge of dynamite beneath it.

"Back then, there were no fireworks, and that was the big thing for folks back then," Brooks said. "They did it every year for a long time."

One year, the anvil's base cracked from the blow. Deciding it was too valuable a tool to risk further damage, Zachariah Wilson brought the stunt to a halt.

The anvil's history dates back to a time when horse-drawn buggies — not motor vehicles — ruled Brooksville's dusty streets.

Zachariah Wilson moved from Alabama to Brooksville in 1910 to try to make a living forging red-hot iron in a tiny shop, originally located on Brooksville Avenue near where the Hernando County Government Center presently sits.

The business quickly became a hive of activity as customers from all over the county sought Wilson's services. He worked long days pounding and shaping raw iron and steel into wagon wheel rims, barn door hinges, farm tools and horseshoes. It was hot, dirty work, but by all accounts he thoroughly enjoyed the craft and was considered one the best "smithies" the city ever had.

When Wilson died in 1956 at the age of 95, his 200-pound anvil went to Brooks' uncle. Unused since his uncle's death in 2005, Brooks appealed to his aunt, Nell Wilson, to donate it to the city as a reminder of the era of a skilled craftsman.

"It's important that we remember that there were people that did things that way back then," Brooks said. "I think it's an important link to the city's history."

According to Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha, the anvil will be placed on permanent display near the lobby entrance at City Hall, located on Howell Avenue in downtown Brooksville.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

Anvil donated to Brooksville is part of city history 08/22/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 8:26pm]
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