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Fountain of Youth Blacksmith Pumps His Billows Amidst Summer Heat

Fountain of Youth blacksmith Greg Sikes works in the park's new shop
Allie George / WJCT News
Fountain of Youth blacksmith Greg Sikes works in the park's new shop

With temperatures in Northeast Florida regularly soaring to the upper nineties during the summer, a blacksmith shop might seem like the last place someone would want to visit.

But that’s precisely what St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park added to its historical attractions last weekend.

Fortunately, the park’s newest addition is covered in shade. It was designed that way, said blacksmith Greg Sikes.

By building a north facing building, the open-air shop is blocked from the sun throughout the day. It’s important, Sikes said, because blacksmiths need to be able to see the orange glow of the hot metal.

Unlike modern blacksmith shops, used mostly for larger scale manufacturing or production purposes, this one is quaint. It does not use electricity, air conditioning, or electric blowers to feed the fire. Sikes opts to fan the flames by hand.

“Here, I get to kind of slow things down, take my time and make things," he said. "But at the same time, tell people what I’m making, how I’m making it, and why I’m making it, so that I can teach them a little bit about what a blacksmith would be doing here in St. Augustine.”

Overlooking the site of the first Spanish settlement in the nation’s Oldest City, the shop is modeled after blacksmith shops the early settlers might have used.

As workers did back then, Sikes is responsible for forging nails and hooks out of either iron or steel.

“One of the key things that any craftsman back in the colonial times would need to have in his toolbox would be patience — lots of patience,” Sikes said. "Nothing happened fast back then. You’re doing things one at a time by hand, it goes as fast as it goes.”

The hardest part of his job?

“Swinging that hammer standing next to a 2,500-degree fire on a hot, August day here in Florida," he said. "It’s very challenging, but if you know what you’re doing — and you’re drinking plenty of water you’re taking breaks as necessary — it’s not as dangerous as people might think.”

Sikes became interested in the craft after observing a master blacksmith. He hopes to eventually take on apprentices in the new shop to share the trade with future generations.   

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Allie George is a St. Augustine native and current WJCT news intern. She has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech, has studied at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and will continue her graduate studies in public health at the University of North Carolina in the fall. Allie is interested in the intersection of health and the environment, and hopes to learn how to more effectively engage the public in science journalism through radio and print.
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