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Arend Bos & Sons

The Last of Kalamazoo’s Original Blacksmiths


When Arend Bos retired in 1928 after 45 years in the trade, he was said to be Kalamazoo’s longest serving blacksmith. Unbowed by the changing times, two of Arend’s four sons, Jacob A. “Jake” Bos (1890-1949) and Jerry Bos (1894-1958) followed in their father’s footsteps and carried on the honorable family trade. By the time Jerry retired in 1957, the Bos family had been in business for more than 70 years.

arend-bros-1904-1600
“Arend Bos, Horse Shoeing and Repairing,” 122 Eleanor Street. Photo likely taken September 1910. Arend Bos (left), and (probably) a 16-year-old Jerry Bos shoeing the horse. Others are unidentified. Kalamazoo Public Library photo file P-1533

The Village Smithy

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the blacksmith (“village smithy”) was an essential part of the American landscape. Shoeing horses, making tools and hardware, and repairing farm implements was dirty, hot, and extremely hard work, which took great skill. As such, blacksmiths were highly respected among their peers.

Born in Groningen, The Netherlands, in June 1855, Arend John Bos (1855-1931) immigrated to Holland, Michigan, in 1882 after serving briefly in the Dutch army. While in Holland, Arend married Jacoba Roseboom (1861-1933) in 1883. After the birth of their son, John Bos (1884-1975), the couple sought opportunity amid the growing Dutch community in Kalamazoo, where Arend found his calling in Garrett Rabbers’ blacksmith shop at 215 North Rose Street.

Bos & Carroll

arend-bos-gazette-12-june-1927-p27-2-360
Arend Bos, Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 June 1927

In 1888 Bos partnered with an Irishman named John Carroll and opened their own blacksmith shop at 315 North Rose, just up the street from Rabbers’. After a half-dozen years on North Rose Street, Bos petitioned the city for permission to build a blacksmith shop on Eleanor Street. Permission was granted and in May 1894, they moved the shop to a new building at 122 Eleanor, next door to the Cornell & Co. carriage factory.

The Bos blacksmith shop was one of roughly 20 such shops in Kalamazoo at the time, but the quality of their work seemed to supersede the others. Jerry said they “did real well with a heavy Dutch and Irish trade… they managed to shoe about 15 horses a day with four men working at a time” (Gazette). One of their key products was called a “muck shoe,” a flat board-like clamp-on horseshoe that allowed the horses to work in the celery fields without sinking.

According to Jerry Bos, “There were always wild arguments going on” (Gazette) and by 1897, Carroll and Bos had parted ways. Carroll opened a new shop across the street at 215 Eleanor Street, while Bos carried on at 122 Eleanor with help from workers like Lib Pritchard, Adam Leenhardt, Miner VanderSalm, and later, Archie Forrest.

“Time was when people for miles around used to gather at the blacksmith shops to hear the latest news and talk over taxation and other important problems. Politicians in the old days were regular visitors at such places. The shops were rated real community centers.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 January 1933

Arend Bos & Son(s)

Bos brought his son Jerry into the business in 1909. Jerry said he never wanted to be anything but a blacksmith and loved hanging around his dad’s shop. Jerry was a lad of 14 when he began working for his father, running errands, carrying tools, cleaning up, holding horses, and pumping the bellows on the forge. Jerry eventually pursued the blacksmith trade himself and became a partner in the business.

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Bos blacksmith shop, 122 Eleanor Street, c.1896. Sanborn Map Company, Sep 1896. Library of Congress

As times changed and the other blacksmiths in town turned up their noses at automobile repair, Jerry and his dad forged ahead and embraced the changing times. Jerry once fashioned a trailer hitch for an early auto when no one else in town would touch it. Jerry also claimed that he was the first in Kalamazoo to ever straighten an automobile axle.

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 August 1925

After an August 1921 fire damaged the Eleanor Street building, Bos moved their horseshoeing and repairing business to 507 North Park Street, where they specialized in “all kinds of welding, brazing, cutting, horseshoeing and repairing” (Gazette). After serving in the First World War, Jacob Bos joined his father and brother in the fall that year. Jake was a highly skilled welder, and especially adept at straightening and repairing automobile frames. Thanks to Jake’s skill, the modern welding trade helped the company make the necessary transition from “horse flesh to horsepower” (Gazette).

The elder Bos retired from the business in 1928 due to ill health, leaving the company in the hands of his two sons. Arend Bos died on 18 July 1931 at the age of 76, by then the oldest blacksmith in Kalamazoo. He was buried at Riverside Cemetery.

Bos Welding & Blacksmith Shop

As time went on, the Arend Bos & Sons Horseshoeing and Repair business became known as the Bos Welding & Blacksmith Shop, a reflection of their more modern capabilities. The brothers did a brisk business installing trailer hitches, sharpening saws, and replacing lawn mower blades, while Jacob focused heavily on welding, brazing, and cutting. In 1931 they expanded their business with the addition of a Dutch ironworker named Henry Lubking, who began producing ornamental iron work and railings for residential and commercial applications.

“He swings his heavy sledge as if it were a feather and the sparks fly when he strikes the hot metal. Yet, despite the roughness of his work, Jerry is an artist. He has made everything from fish spears to airplane landing gear. Where present day metal workers cut, fit and weld to produce a desired shape, Jerry heats the metal and, with his big hammer, pounds the required angles and curves into the one unbroken piece and retains the inherent strength of the metal.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 October 1946

“Fire in the old forge goes cold”

Jacob Bos died in June 1949 at the age of 58, but his brother Jerry carried on, although he renamed the business Bos Blacksmith & Welding Company to better reflect his own skills. As far as Jerry Bos was concerned, the hammer hitting his dad’s old anvil was “the prettiest sound in the world” (Gazette). Jerry loved everything about blacksmithing. He loved the smell of the fire, the ringing of the anvil, the sight of sparks flying, and he carried on the family business until a heart attack slowed his momentum and his doctor told him it was time to call it quits.

After 49 years in the trade, Jerry Bos was the last blacksmith listed in the Kalamazoo telephone directory when he sold off his tools and closed the shop in 1957. He passed away the following year, 17 December 1958, at the age of 65. Both Jerry and Jake were given final rest with other members of the Bos family in Riverside Cemetery.

The Art of Blacksmithing Today

While blacksmithing today might be somewhat less common, it’s far from a lost art. Current day blacksmiths like Jon Reeves and Jutta Wilberding (Combat Ready Art) and the metal fabricators from OIK Industries are keeping the craft alive right here in Kalamazoo. Jon and Jutta teach classes in blacksmithing and metalwork, from artistic metal sculpture to knifemaking, for individuals, families, and groups. Three Combat Ready students were recently featured on the History Channel’s TV show, “Forged in Fire.” On the other hand, the folks at OIK Industries (Ornamental Iron of Kalamazoo) are local commercial metal fabricators, who create custom gates and fences, stairways, wrought iron décor, and architectural work for commercial and residential use. Wouldn’t the village smithys like Arend Bos be amazed (and likely proud) to see what these artisans are creating?

 

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, January 2024

Sources

Articles

“At the council meeting last night”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 April 1894, page 1

Display ad
Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 May 1894, page 8

“New blacksmith shop”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 November 1897, page 8

“Blacksmith shop damaged by fire”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 August 1921, page 9

“Blacksmith has plied trade in Kalamazoo for 38 years”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 June 1927, page 27

“Bos firm adds iron work to its line”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 May 1931, page 7

“Arend Bos, city’s oldest smith, dies”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 July 1931, page 1

“Blacksmith shops, civic centers of 20 years ago, dwindle to two”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 January 1932, page 2

“Blacksmiths find horse shoeing business slow; autos chief boom”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 January 1933, page 10

“No Chestnut tree needed by blacksmith, says Bos”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 September 1934, page 33

“Jerry Bos still swings sledge in shop his father started in 1899”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 October 1946, page 10

Display ad
Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 June 1949, page 6

“Jacob Bos dies at 58”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 June 1949, page 2

“Jerry Bos, last of Kalamazoo blacksmiths, hangs up hammer”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 January 1957, page 31

“Deaths in Kalamazoo, Vicinity”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 December 1958, page 11

“The way we were”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 January 1982, page H-1

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