Johnny Alberts – Blacksmith Extraordinaire

January 20, 2020

John Alberts Sr., Taken in 1937.
This is a 1956 photo of local smithy John Alberts Jr., fitting new shoes to Flash Direct, well-known pacer owned, by Leonard Charette of Harrison.

This week’s ghost is a test of sorts for Marionites of a certain age. Much like the three huge pickling vats that once stood along the railroad tracks between Main and First Streets, either you remember or you don’t.

This same time test applies, to the last downtown location of Marion’s blacksmith business. Marion’s blacksmith, John Alberts, Sr., established his business in 1901 and operated on North Mill, next to the river until 1935, then moved to South Mill and the former Dunham mill site, on the north bank of the Middle Branch.

By 1956, John “Johnny” Alberts Jr., was running the smithy in Marion, Michigan. He had learned the blacksmithing trade, from his father, as did brothers Leo and Frank. Leo was a successful blacksmith in Grand Rapids and Frank took over the Marion business when John Sr. died in 1947. Johnny put hammer to anvil when his brother died in 1950 and carried the business forward.

It wasn’t long before folks seeking custom horseshoeing beat a path to the little cement block smithy and the expert services of Johnny Alberts. A visit to the smithy got the horse owner expert services, plenty of free advice and some colorful entertainment as well. Johnny knew more ‘I got a little story to tell ya’ tales than anyone else around, and he liked to tell them.

Demand for his services was high and Alberts, a ferrier ahead of his time, fitted out a traveling smithy to visit customers anywhere, be it farm, fair or racetrack. He was in high demand in West Michigan, enjoying the popularity of summer horse racing and horse back riding, into the 1980’s.  

By 1965, the old smithy had disappeared and Morton’s new business, The Village Shoppe, with Dr. Youngman’s office adjoining, taking its place. John and “Tiny” Alberts had built a new home just north of the village on M-66, with a smithy-workshop in the back. John did not want for visitors or horses to shoe in his semi-retirement.

He took to forging lamps, ashtray stands and other yard embellishments from his vast stock of horseshoes. For many years Marion’s Horseshoe Bar sported an array of Johnny’s lamp work in the form of horseshoe based wall lamps. The Alberts’ mailbox post bespoke John’s profession and was a landmark for regular travelers along M-66.

Johnny and Tiny Alberts are the parents of Dale, John and the late Josette.

The original site of John Alberts Blacksmith Shop was on the east side of North Mill. Today it is a parking lot. Johnny Alberts Blacksmith Shop site on South Mill is now the aptly named Smitty’s Diner.

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