Sunday, October 2, 2011

Of Blacksmiths, Bicycles, and Clocks: Elizabeth's Forebears in Loosdrecht

Hammer, tongs, anvil, forge: These were the tools of three of Grandma Elizabeth’s brothers as well as several generations of her forebears. In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, blacksmiths produced many important tools and farm implements as well as shoeing horses. Gates, grilles, railings, lanterns, cooking utensils, and decorative items were forged by pounding red-hot metal with hammer and chisel. As we will see, Daams blacksmiths also manufactured several unusual and popular articles.

The first known record of a Daams blacksmith was the betrothal notice of Cornelis Damen or Daams in the tiny hamlet of Stroe in March 1733, where the groom’s occupation was listed as smid, or blacksmith.[1]

Daams smithy in Loosdrecht, circa 1960

Some 85 years later in 1818, another Cornelis Daams purchased the smithy where Elizabeth was born in 1886. This building, which still stands in Loosdrecht, stayed in the Daams family until 1971, when the last Daams blacksmith, Jasper the son of yet another Cornelis, retired. The 1818 Cornelis purchased the property for 200 guilders: 100 up front and the second 100 the following May.

Hendrik Daams, born 1816
A mid-19th century photograph shows Hendrik Daams, eldest son of Cornelis and Louisa Frederika, seated next to his anvil. He is wearing the typical Dutch wooden shoes, which must have protected his feet from sparks flying from his forge or the heavy tools he wielded. Hendrik’s specialty was manufacturing stoves and heaters. It was also this Daams blacksmith who made the first push-bicycles seen in Loosdrecht, quite possibly the first seen in the Netherlands.

Imagine the astonishment of the townspeople to see a neighbor or two gliding smoothly along the road hands on handlebars and feet in the air. These primitive cycles were a far cry from the thousands of urban cycles now streaming through the streets of Amsterdam. They did not have inflatable tires, but apparently metal wheels covered with rubber. The cycles were not equipped with brakes or pedals either; the riders simply pushed them along the road with their feet.

The youngest child of Cornelis and Louisa Frederika, born in 1836, was my great-grandfather Jasper Daams  --  the father of Grandma Elizabeth and her nine siblings. (Two died in early childhood.) This Jasper was a skilled tradesman, whose talent in metalwork enabled him to repair the clock in the town hall of Oud-Loosdrecht, much to the satisfaction of the Town Council. He also manufactured copper water pumps in various sizes  --  small models for the kitchen and larger ones for watering troughs for farm animals.

When Elizabeth was three years old, her father also constructed the first iron-clad boat to be seen in Loosdrecht (and maybe one of the first in the Netherlands). Of course, the townspeople thought that it would sink right away. But it did not. This episode did, however, result in one casualty: after painting the boat, Jasper set it in a farmer’s field to dry. A cow grazing in the pasture licked the painted hull and died, poisoned. Great-grandpa Daams had to compensate the farmer for the loss of the cow, and probably did not have enough money to build another boat after that!

Daams Family 1903

In Elizabeth’s generation, the trade of blacksmithing was again handed down from father to sons. In this photo taken in 1903, a couple of years after Jasper’s death, Elizabeth’s brothers “Freek” (Frederik) and “Kees” (Cornelis) were both blacksmiths. Eldest brother “Joop” (Johannes) had probably already moved to Rotterdam to practice the same trade. Only the youngest brother  --  another Jasper  --  shown here at age twelve, did not take up the family business. 

Although no longer in the Daams family, the old smithy where Grandma Elizabeth was born still stands, as this photograph taken by Robbertjan R. in the summer of 2011 indicates:

Former Daams Smithy, Loosdrecht 2011

[1] The source of much of the material in this post is an article sent to me by Cousin Robbertjan in Amsterdam: “De geschiedenis van een smidsfamilie,” by J. Daams Czn., in Historische Kring Loosdrecht, Number 96, February 1994. (Dank je wel, Robbertjan!)

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