RICES LANDING – W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop in Rices Landing, considered by some as one of the area’s least known historic sites, is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
The machine shop, which was built in 1900 and has remained relatively unchanged since the days it serviced the riverboat, railroad and mining industries, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Though the significance of the building has been recognized in the past, “this is the pinnacle of designations,” said August R. Carlino, president and chief executive officer of Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp., which owns the shop and proposed the landmark nomination.
Only about 2,500 sites are now designated as national landmarks, he said.
“This really puts it up there among the elite,” Carlino said. “It is truly of significance to get this designation.”
The machine shop was built by William A. Young, a local carpenter and farmer, in 1900 and was expanded in 1908 to include the foundry. The building contains all the original machinery it had when it closed in the late 1960s.
The metal lathes, drill presses, grinders, saws, planers and shapers that fill the shop date from between 1870 and 1920 and are run by a system of leather belts and wooden pulleys mounted to the ceiling that was originally powered by a single steam engine and is now run by a gasoline engine. The foundry has the original coke-fired furnace, metal ladles and the traveling overhead crane. Wooden patterns that were used to make the cast-iron parts are found throughout the building.
In making the announcement of the designation last week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell called the shop an outstanding example of a small, family-owned, 20th-century foundry and machine shop.
“‘Job shops’ like W. A. Young & Sons, which did custom jobs for a variety of clients, were an important component of the American industrial economy facilitated by the development of machine tools and line-shaft power systems,” she said. “The property includes perhaps the finest collection of machine tools found in a small job shop.”
The landmark designation is the highest form of federal recognition that can be awarded to a historic site. To receive the designation, the corporation had to prove the site not only possesses integrity but also that its history is nationally significant.
The designation will help to attract more attention to the shop and to its historic significance, Carlino said. This should, in turn, help the corporation obtain money to further the shop’s maintenance and preservation.
The landmark designation, Carlino said, highlights not only the work Young did at the machine shop and foundry but also the community’s effort to preserve the building as it was after the shop was closed.
The shop closed in 1969. Young had died in 1940 and at the time, the business was being run by his two sons, Walter and Carl. The building remained closed until 1985 when it was purchased by the Greene County Historical Society.
Volunteers from the society made initial repairs to allow the shop to be reopened to the public. George “Bly” Blystone, caretaker of the shop, credited the late George Kelley for being instrumental in that effort.
Unable to raise money or get grants needed to fully restore the building, the historical society in 2009 transferred the property to the Steel Industry Heritage Corp.
The corporation has completed some restoration work on the building, putting a new roof on it and last year beginning a project to replace damaged wood siding and repair the foundation.
However, a lot of restoration work still needs to be completed, Carlino said.
Blystone, who has been the volunteer caretaker of the shop for the last 15 years, said he was happy to hear of the designation.
“It means that (the shop) is being recognized finally after all these years as an important piece of the American industrial revolution,” he said.
The building is very much appreciated by those who know of it, Blystone said.
“But many people don’t know it’s here,” he said. “It’s under recognized.”
Blystone and volunteer Gary Shriver usually open the building each Sunday. Blystone urged people to come see it, although he urged anyone wanting to visit the shop to call him in advance at 724-710-4898 to make sure he will be there.