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Alf's Blacksmith Shop

Gertrude Alf - Alf's Blacksmith Shop

DAGGETT — The announcement that Alf’s Blacksmith Shop has been designated as a point of historical interest surprised Mrs. Gertrude Alf. She didn’t know that the San Bernardino County Museum was planning to single out the shop of her late husband’s father.

Mrs. Alf greeted the news with mild interest. "We’ve been trying for years to get some recognition for Daggett and its historical background, but until now all they (the museum people) wanted to do was take our collection to Calico or Barstow

The tiny, bright-eyed widow speaks in short, snappy words. Her conversation overflows with stories of Daggett’s past of a community that once rivaled in commerce and population the now larger Mojave River Valley towns.

Mrs. Alf’s home, which she shares with one of her sons, is filled with books, pictures and collections of artifacts from the mining days.

“Walter (her husband) wouldn’t let me get rid of a thing, even during the war when people were turning in scrap metal, he insisted on keeping all of this,’ Mrs. Alf said.

She walked through each room and told of life in Daggett when she moved here at the age of 20, in 1917. She was a teacher, here to take her first job in the Daggett School.

A year later, Gertrude Hadley, married Walter Alf and they settled in the adobe house next to the blacksmith shop.

The blacksmith shop was established in the late 1880s by Walter’s father, Seymour. He was not a smith (nor did Walter become one). He hired all of the work done and contracted for earth-moving and excavation jobs.
Seymour was also a businessman who butchered and sold beef to the mining town of Calico. He contracted with Pacific Coast Borax Co., to haul borax in wagons behind 20-mule teams to Daggett where the mineral was processed for shipment by rail.

Union Pacific Railroad owned most of the land, which people squatted on, Mrs. Alf recalls. Following a survey, the company sold off some parcels, one of them a two-plus-acre site to Seymour Alf where the Alf home, blacksmith shop and pioneer museum now stands at First and Santa Fe streets.

Walter Alf became a contractor like his father. The couple had three sons, Walter Jr., who manages the Hadley Farms store in Cabazon, for his uncle Paul Hadley; Hadley, who raises cotton in Australia; and Lawrence, a bachelor, who lives in Daggett, and works for the Stewart-Davis Co. at Barstow-Daggett Airport.

Walter Alf later owned and managed the community water company. “He never really retired,’ Mrs. Alf said. When the need for a blacksmith shop slowly declined, Alf refused to sell off the equipment. He kept everything.

The weathered building now holds a priceless collection of dust-covered blacksmith machinery, tools and implements, most of them handmade. Outside huge wagons and machinery rest from years of use in bygone days.

As they grew older the Alfs turned the shop and part of their home into a private museum. “We never charged anyone to see our collection,’’ Mrs. Alf said. She displayed a yellow-paged guest book with the names of their visitors.

The tools of men and work rest in the shop, but the tiny adobe house holds a different kind of collection. Glass cases are filled with delicate embroidered clothing worn by the women of the 1880s. A history in photographs lines the walls. Mrs. Alf displayed two large books of California and western history edited by John Muir.

Mrs. Alf told the story of how John Muir's daughter Helen came to Daggett to recover from pneumonia and "galloping consumption" recovered, fell in love and married. "I taught her four children in school," Mrs. Alf said.

Walter Alf died four years ago (1970) at the age of 82. Since then, Mrs. Alf has busied herself trying to churn up some interest in rejuvinating the town. She envisions Daggett as a living ghost town.

Last year, she helped a Urich Oil Co. executive, Hugh Lacy, acquire some land which he said he would develop and transform Daggett into a tourist at- traction. Lacy had plans for constructing a 200-seat theater restaurant using a railroad theme. However, Mrs. Alf said, Lacy had heart surgery some months ago and has put aside his plans for a while.

Mrs. Alf stood on the tiny patch of grass outside her home and looked at the darkening sky, filling with tropical storm clouds, "Looks like we might get some rain." She turned and looked at the old shop again.

“Well it’s nice they (the county) recognized us. But I hope somebody will give us some financial help, That’s what we need to get this place going again. You know, Daggett is a nice place to retire to.”

Elaine Marable - The San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) - 2 Oct 1974

Gertrude Alf - Sun staff photo

Helen Muir

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