Preserving living history at the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop

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W.A. Young & Sons Machine Shop

It’s important to recognize the value of The Keystone Fund and the preservation work it supports all year round, especially during preservation month!  Without this program and its financial support, many, many important historic places in Pennsylvania would suffer.  Read on for this month Keystone Fund success story, the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop.

I had a wonderful opportunity in early April to visit the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop (Key No. 156822) in Rices Landing, Greene County and in the Rices Landing Historic District.

Front of the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry & Machine Shop, located along Water Street in 1991. Built circa 1900, the foundry is a contributing property to the Rice’s Landing Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photograph located at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division HAER: PA,30-RILA,1-47.  For more photos, drawings, and information from this collection, visit www.loc.gov/pictures/item/pa2222/.

The Foundry and Machine Shop

This small, two-story industrial building overlooks the Monongahela River along Water Street and is managed by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. What is exceptional about this National Historic Landmark is not its architectural design, but its intact collection. It remains an excellent extant example of a preserved local machine shop representing the evolution from a time when local blacksmith shops made machine parts to mass-produced, specialty production fabricated in large foundries.

Heavy equipment, machines, wooden patterns and even the spilled sand for casting remain in the building for visitors to explore. My tour guides from Rivers of Steel were Ronald Baraff, George Blystone, and Gary Shriver who even fired up the main engine so that all the belts in the overdraft system spun throughout the building.

W.A. Young overdraft

W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop main overdrive shaft, photo by author, 2018.

The W.A. Young site’s preservation tells the story about how such shops contributed to the American industrial era. At one time, there were numerous similar enterprises throughout Pennsylvania catering to burgeoning industry. William A. Young built the machine shop in 1900 to service boats along the river as well as nearby railroad and mining industries. The building was expanded in 1908 adding a large foundry and operated until 1969.

W.A. Young calendar

W.A. Young calendar – W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop, photo by author, 2018.

The site retains its metal lathes, drill presses, grinders, saw, planers, and shapers that run by a complex system of leather belts and wooden pulleys mounted to the ceiling. Originally powered by a steam engine, the shop is now powered by a gasoline engine.

W.A. Young engine

W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop engine, photo by author, 2018.

W.A. Young drill

W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop drill, photo by author, 2018.

Hammer-In

My visit was too early in the season to experience the Hammer-In event at the Machine Shop on April 21st. This annual event, which brings hundreds of visitors to the area, allows for tours of the shop and demonstrations by blacksmiths. Appalachian Blacksmiths and Pittsburgh Area Artists-Blacksmiths host the event in conjunction with Rivers of Steel to raise funds to further the ongoing preservation of the shop and its unique collection of artifacts.

Preserving the W.A. Young Machine Shop 

In addition to this annual fundraiser, the Keystone Fund has been instrumental in ensuring this significant resource was not lost.

PHMC provided Rivers of Steel over $115,000 through several Keystone Historic Preservation grants to make structural repairs to the timber-post and beam building and improve rainwater drainage away from the building. New gutters and downspouts coupled with a prior roof replacement under a National Park Service Save America’s Treasures grant have vastly improved the structural integrity and longevity of the building. Wooden siding and severely rotted windows were repaired or replaced in those areas vastly damaged by prior leaks, especially around the internal lightwell.

W.A. Young lightwell

W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop interior lightwell, photo by author, 2018.

All of this restoration work is guided by a June 2012 Conservation Assessment Program Historic Structures Report (CAP) on the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop. Authored by the architecture and preservation firm of Pfaffman + Associates of Pittsburgh, the historic structure report evaluated the condition and architectural integrity of the building and reviewed existing preservation/rehabilitation plans. The report contained a systemic inventory of the major building elements including features, materials, systems and spaces according to condition and impact.

W.A. Young machines

W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop equipment, photo by author, 2018.

With assistance of the Keystone Fund, Rivers of Steel addressed the primary concern of the building shell – the missing and deteriorated door and window elements  – to make the building weather tight. The restoration of these important features significantly improved the ability to moderate interior temperature and humidity to protect the site’s remarkable collection. The building’s conditions, along with the ongoing efforts of their very dedicated staff and volunteers to keep the machines cleaned and well oiled, will ensure that many visitors can experience this amazing place.

W.A. Young lathe

W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop lathe, photo by author, 2018.

Why is preserving the W.A. Young Machine Shop so important?

Conserving this heritage bolsters economic development in southwestern Pennsylvania that increases tourism, creates jobs, and generates money for the local municipalities. People are encouraged to enjoy the natural and cultural site, to volunteer, and to learn about its history which in turns promote awareness and fosters interest in, and stewardship of, other regional heritage resources. The blacksmithing culture, that the area is known for, is preserved and a sense of place and community pride is strengthened through the hard work of Rivers of Steel and the Keystone Fund support.

To learn more about the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop, visit the Rivers of Steel website at https://www.riversofsteel.com/preservation/heritage-sites/machine%20shop/ . The Machine Shop is open on Sundays Noon to 4pm during the summer – or mark your calendar for their next Hammer-In event, April 20, 2019!

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