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Fanning the flame of historical appreciation

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 June 2013 at 12:00 am

Blacksmith creates rings for hitching post project

Photos by Tom Rivers – George Borrelli works in his Carlton shop to make the ring that will be put in a hitching post.

The steel in the ring is heated to about 1,600 degrees.

ALBION – Here is something you may not realize about Albion: This community may have more century-old hitching posts, carriage steps and mounting blocks than anywhere else in the world.

I’ve counted about 40 hitching posts in the 14411 zip code. There may be a hundred of the carriage steps and mounting blocks. Some of these are beautiful works of art carved by the quarrymen from generations ago.

The posts and blocks were the parking spaces in the horse-and-buggy era. Most communities took these out long ago. But in Albion many have endured along East State Street, Mount Albion Cemetery, Ridge Road in Gaines and a lot of the village side streets.

George Borrelli studied the rings on local hitching posts, including this one at South Clinton Street in Albion, to make new ones.

This hitching post is in front of a historic cobblestone house on Densmore Street.

They sit in front of some of the finest old homes in the community, sometimes only a few feet from the road.

Four more will soon join the local landscape in prominent spots along Main Street.

The Albion Main Street Alliance is coordinating the project that is targeting the courthouse lawn for two hitching posts, a spot in front of the former Swan Library and a Main Street sidewalk by Krantz Furniture. (The state Department of Transportation needs to sign off on the sidewalk.)

This project has a lot of people excited. Several of us donated money to buy four hitching posts from local contractor Fred Pilon. The sandstone posts didn’t have holes for the rings to tie up horses. These posts were likely property markers from long ago. But they look just like hitching posts, except for the missing rings.

We wanted rings and turned to a local blacksmith George Borrelli for help. Borrelli is a talented metal artist. I first learned about him when I admired the ornate coat rack at the former Elsewhere coffee house in Albion. (Yes, I marveled at a coat rack.) Borrelli turned a mundane piece of furniture into a piece of artwork.

Borrelli knows how to shape steel. Yesterday I picked up the four rings he made for the hitching posts. They are thick and about three inches in diameter. He also made a 4-inch long pintle that will go into a hole in the hitching post. (Tony Russo of Medina is helping us drill the holes. We also need to fill the holes with lead to hold the pintle.)

Borrelli, a machine builder and former tool-and-die maker, studied the rings on some of the old hitching posts to make a design for the new ones. He has a forge in his Carlton shop. He believes he made them using the same skills and techniques from the blacksmiths 100 years ago.

One difference in the new rings: They are made of steel instead of iron. Borrelli said iron is hard to come by these days.

He used a forge to heat the steel to 1,600 degrees and shape it into a circle. He used a hammer to flatten out the pintle.

“I’ve always loved the old machines and the old ways,” he said at his shop in Carlton on Saturday. “I enjoy trying to recreate something.”

Borrelli has a niche in making custom cabinet handles. He said there has been a renaissance in blacksmithing in the past decade. (Emil Smith of Medina is another skilled local blacksmith. His sculptures are on display on Route 63, just south of the village.)

I’m hoping the hitching posts are well received by the public and we can try to add some to downtown Medina and Holley, as well as a few more to Albion. I also think we should create a map with these horse-and-buggy artifacts. I’ve been taking pictures and jotting down addresses, but I’m sure I’m missing some. If you have one, send me your address so I can stop by and put you on the map.

Borrelli created a jig to wrap the steel around, creating a ring with a 3-inch diameter.

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Borrelli bends and shapes the metal.

George Borrelli holds one of the new rings and pintles he created. He coated them in turpentine and linseed oil.