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California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE) Profile: 
Reviving a Gold Country Relic - the Knight Foundry

A 132-year old industrial relic, the Knight Foundry, lies in rural Amador County, in the town of Sutter Creek. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Knight Foundry transformed iron into pickaxes, streetlight poles, and an assortment of gears that powered mines up and down the Mother Lode. The Knight Foundry Foundation has kept the foundry intact and expects it to run again, thanks in part to support from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment.

Knight Foundry back wall showing damage 
and missing section on right side.
[Photo courtesy Knight Foundry Foundation]
   

Samuel Newman Knight built the foundry in 1872 to improve on foundries that used steam power and burned as much as 100 cords of wood per day. Powered by water pressure, Knight’s enterprise, which included 60 machines connected to a water wheel, was a 19th century engineering marvel.

Like many of America’s industrial heirlooms, the Knight Foundry teetered toward demolition during the 20th century. Today, what remains of the country’s last water powered ironworks is a brass and bronze shop, a blacksmith shop, a coke storage building, a rolled pipe-making building, a pattern loft, a buggy shed, a horse barn, a rivet shop, a wood shed and water operated saw, and machine shop, an arrangement of buildings with cracked windows, rusted roofs, and other problems.

Saving a 19th century heirloom

Knight Foundry Pipe Shop and Pattern Loft
[Photo courtesy Knight Foundry Foundation]
  

An endangered site with the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1996, the Knight Foundry is also an official project of the Save America’s Treasures Program. Most recently, in August of 2007, the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE) entered into a $50,000 contract with the Knight Foundry Foundation to investigate and identify on-site toxics. This current environmental study is intended to result in a remediation plan approved by the California Department of Toxics Substances Control. Once toxics are identified and removed, the Knight Foundry Foundation will enter into an agreement with the City of Sutter Creek to purchase and re-open the forge. The City of Sutter Creek is also seeking the support of CCHE to help purchase the foundry.

Enduring craftsmanship

Before his death, Samuel Knight, by willing his foundry to his employees, began a practice of blue-collar inheritance that has lasted for generations. Reopening the Knight Foundry will be a challenge left for volunteers, including Knight Foundry Corporation Project Director Andy Fahrenwald who leads the preservation charge, and Knight Foundry Facility Manager Russ Johnson, an ironmaster who learned his craft from workers who had manned the foundry for half a century.


Samuel Knight (with cane) and his skilled workers, ca. 1885.
[Photo courtesy Amador County Archive]

The last pour for the Knight Foundry occurred in 1996 when the foundry had a contract with the City of San Leandro to forge vintage street lamp posts. Since that time, the foundry has sat silent. But preservation leaders, like Russ Johnson, with the support of the CCHE, are devoted to making it hum in California’s Gold Country once again.

For more information about the Knight Foundry, please write to Knight Foundry Corporation Project Director Andy Fahrenwald at P.O. Box 1776, Sutter Creek, California 95685.

For more information about the California Cultural and Historical Endowment, please contact Executive Officer Diane Matsuda at (916) 651-8768 or email at dmatsuda@library.ca.gov.
  

 
 

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