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Scots architectural ironworkers in the US - creating first generation ironworks

Like many other nations, the Scots travelled to the United States for many reasons. It is not surprising that some of the Scots ironworkers moved to the US and many set out on their own - many with a great deal of success. Here are a few of note.

George Ainslie and the Washington Foundry

Born in Edinburgh, George Ainslie travelled to the US in 1823 to Robert Owen’s short lived community of New Harmony. He moved to Louisville in 1837, working his way up in the foundry and eventually becoming a partner.

In 1857 he and Archibald Cochran in the firm established the large Louisville Foundry and it was a success, by 1875 it was described as one of the largest in the Western United States. The Foundry produced a wide range of cast iron goods including architectural and ornamental ironwork.

Robert Findlay Ironworks, Macon, Georgia

Born in 1808 and trained as a cabinet maker near Edinburgh, Robert Findlay travelled to the United States aged twenty and established his ironworks in the city of Macon, Georgia. His primary business was in the manufacture of stationary steam engines but he also produced general castings and ornamental cast ironwork.

Like the Scottish iron founders, his house was adorned with architectural castings made by his foundry. He died in 1859 passing the firm to his two sons James and Christopher.

James Smith - the Confederate Scot

James Smith was born in Edinburgh in 1816. Both born in Edinburgh, Smith had run his own hardware business in Jackson, Mississippi, having travelled to the USA as a teenager from Scotland (1832). Wellstood had moved to New York previously and the two had remained in contact. Wellstood had established himself as a metalworker of some distinction in Newark. Some accounts suggest Smith was pirating US patents for closed stoves, and shipping examples to Scotland for reproduction. His hardware store certainly specialised in selling stoves and cooking ranges.

In the 1850s, due to his wife’s ill health, Smith moved back to Scotland, but never forgot his adopted roots, especially during the Civil War. James Smith and Stephen Wellstood became partners in 1858 and established their stove works in Bonnybridge.

While on a voyage to the United States in 1854, the American liner, Arctic, collided with the French steamer, Vesta, and sank off the coast of Newfoundland. Smith was one of only a few survivors to be rescued from sea after two days, having survived on a raft constructed from planking and a tin-lined wicker basket. He had seen at least one ship pass in the distance during his ordeal, and had almost given up hope when he was picked up. He kept the wicker basket and it travelled back to Scotland with him.

In the same year Smith met Jefferson Davis, the one and only President of the Confederate States for the first time. The two became very close and Davis would later visit Smith and his family at Benvue, Dowanhill, Scotland, in 1869. Likewise, Smith would visit Davis at Beauvoir in 1884.

During the Civil War, Smith was responsible for sending cannons, rifles and ammunition for the defense of Jackson. An ardent Confederate, Smith flew the Confederate flag from the window of his London office, according to accounts. His brother, Robert, had been killed in battle in 1862, which deeply affected James and cemented his allegiance to the Confederacy.

Jackson City decided to create a park in honour of Smith and in 1884 he donated the funds for a cast iron fence around it.

Smith died on April 11, 1886 but the connection continued. His sons sent twelve cast iron benches to be set in the park. The park is now listed in the US National Register of historic Places.

Stewart Ironworks, Kentucky

Richard C Stewart travelled with his family from Scotland to Louisville where he trained as a blacksmith. His sons entered the business and set up a number of iron related business including a decorative ironworks and a manufactory for jail cells in Covington. The firm expanded extensively, undertaking projects to include ironwork for the British Embassy in Washington, restoring the gates to the White House. Unusually for an American firm Stewarts exported products into Europe, mostly ornamental, including London and France. The firm promoted themselves as manufacturers of “Iron Fence and Entrance Gates, Iron Reservoir Vases, Iron and Wire setters, Stable fittings, Lamps, Grills, Office Partitions, Window Guards, general Ornamental Iron Works, Jail and Prison security Iron Works and Steel Grills”.

Stewart became prolific manufacturers and suppliers of iron fencing. After WWI, the domestic market exploded for residential fencing, estate gates and high end interior ornamental railing projects. The firm also sold their products through Sear and Roebuck, and staffing increased to over 3,000 workers. The business has continued to develop and remains in operation today.

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