Catasauqua Press

Friday, December 6, 2019
Chris Opresko creates a wrought iron weld while Mike Warmkessel looks on at Historic Catasauqua Preservation Association’s annual celebration Jan. 15. Blacksmiths believe beer poured over a hot anvil helps cure the weld. Everyone else assumes the smiths drink the beer. Chris Opresko creates a wrought iron weld while Mike Warmkessel looks on at Historic Catasauqua Preservation Association’s annual celebration Jan. 15. Blacksmiths believe beer poured over a hot anvil helps cure the weld. Everyone else assumes the smiths drink the beer.
Press photos by Paul CmilDeb Mellish and Kathleen Witt sample the hors d’oeuvres buffet. Press photos by Paul CmilDeb Mellish and Kathleen Witt sample the hors d’oeuvres buffet.
Chris Opresko and Chris Dries show off a handful of steel and leather roses for sale at the blacksmith shop. Chris Opresko and Chris Dries show off a handful of steel and leather roses for sale at the blacksmith shop.

HCPA celebrates successes, makes future plans

Thursday, January 28, 2016 by paul cmil Special to The Press in Local News

Since its inception, Historic Catasauqua Preservation Association (HCPA) holds an annual celebration for its friends and supporters. In 2015, the staff made a change switching the celebration from a Christmas season event to a January celebration. The switch brought in bigger crowds.

On Jan. 15, the group staged its annual event at the Biery House with an elaborate array of hors d’oeuvres and mouth-watering desserts.

Although the celebration was held at HCPA’s Biery House Gallery, the outbuildings spurred guest’s interest to venture into the cold for a peak.

Christopher Opresko invited everyone to his blacksmith shop set up in the Scale House at Biery’s Port. Opresko has an intense interest in blacksmithing.

“I’ve been interested in it since I was 6. There aren’t any schools for it, so I had to work with various smiths to learn the trade,” he said.

One of Opresko’s accomplishments is getting a program together for Boy Scouts to earn a merit badge demonstrating their knowledge of smithing.

“There is more to the process than making horseshoes. Guests ask us if we make horseshoes all the time, but the blacksmith was a much more important fixture in early American communities,” he said.

Over the past few months, Opresko, along with Mike Warmkessel and Chris Dries, reworked the Scale House into an authentic blacksmith shop, as it would appear along the river during the heyday of barge traffic along the river.

“The shops were important to the river traffic. The crews could stop at one of these shops and have parts made and get repairs done,” said Opresko.

The goal was to make the forge an authentic reproduction of the original canal shops. The Scale House floor is a combination of brick from a local farmhouse and planks from the original Crayola Factory.

Warmkessel and Opresko worked a blacksmithing forge for the National Museum of Industrial History.

“The museum closed down their blacksmithing displays. We picked up the action and moved everything to the Scale House,” said Opresko.

There are some impressive tools on display; the anvil was made by the Shetfield Anchor Company, which crafted anchors for British passenger ships including the Titanic.

“Carpentry students at LCCC are building a bellows crafted to period standards,” said Opresko.

HCPA is looking forward to this summer. May 1 is the opening celebration at the George Taylor House. May 8 is the grand opening of the blacksmith shop. “We aren’t finished with all our renovations, but we are open for business on the weekends between noon and five. We have demonstrations planned in other locals,” said Opresko.

The smiths hired Anjie Kulp to be their public relations contact.

“We have events planned all over the East Coast with some big events in Long Island and in Strasburg [at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania],” said Kulp. The grand opening on May 8 will feature the steam calliope. “You might be able to hear that one in Allentown,” said Warmkessel.

Products are available for sale, and ten percent of the proceeds are donated to the HCPA.

“For Valentine’s Day, we have a special on hand-crafted steel roses. Rob Ault used our metal patterns and made some of the roses in leather,” said Warmkessel. There is special pricing on the roses. Each rose takes about four hours to make.

Opresko has an idea that the area around Biery’s Port could have the same tourist attraction flair that one can see on display in Williamsburg, Va.

HCPA will work to keep the historical tenor of the area around Biery’s Port.

You can read more about HCPA’s plans by visiting the Borough of Catasauqua’s website.