Roswell Boice "R. B." Stillwill
Jamestown Blacksmith
(Article in the Grand Rapids Herald about 1955)

When R. B. Stilwill was born some 66 years ago this month, a tiny, specially made horseshoe was thrust into his hand almost before he uttered his first wail.

It came from his father, Roswell Boice Stilwill, who was determined his son, the only boy in a family of girls, was going to follow him into horseshoeing.

As he celebrates his 50th anniversary in the business, one of the few of the old-time craftsmen still left, R. B. can think of very few times he has been far from horseshoes since.

Strangely, in a day when Ole Dobbin supposedly is fading away, Stilwill has noted a slight upturn in business at the shop he and his father have operated since 1869 on the main four-corners of Jamestown.

He admits readily, however, that work nowhere near approaches the heyday of the shop when he did as much work in one December as he did recently in two full years. At 66, he is just as well satisfied.

"I’m not the man I was then," he says. "Now I weigh 200 pounds and worry about the waistline of my pants. In those days, I weighed 169 pounds, had a size 44 chest, a 28-inch waist and worried about the shoulders of a suit."

After his first introduction to a horseshoe, Stilwill had a brief respite. By the time R. B. was 9, his father decided it was time to renew acquaintances. Much of the time he was not in school, R. B. spent in the shop, standing on a box beside the anvil, striking alternate blows with his father shaping shoes.

"I know now it was his way of teaching," Stilwill remarks. "Sometimes I had different felling then when I had to pound out a pair of horseshoes before I could go play. It also built me up. By the time I was 17, I had the strongest pair of arms in the area."

On his 16th birthday, R. B. went into the shop with his father. Twelve years later, he took over when his father retired after 50 years in the business, 49 in the present shop.

When R. B. was 17, his father gave the youth’s work his seal of approval.

"I always loved horses and when one came in the shop that caught my eye, I’d tease my father to buy it. He told me when I could shoe a horse out of handmade shoes to suit him, he’d buy me one. Finally he said, "I guess I’ll have to buy that horse. That’s as good a job as I could do."

The horse was a fast pacer, Maude, and R. B. had her for 21 years. Indirectly, it led to his marriage. His wife, the former Clarine TerHaar, also liked horses and had a saddle horse. They met one day at a lake and talk of horses led to a date and then to a wedding. They will have been married 47 years June 17 and have two sons, Iran of Grand Rapids and Roswell "Ross" Boice of Jamestown.

Stilwell’s peak year in the shop was in 1919 when he put on 6,954 shoes. A spell of ice when horses had to be sharp-shod to stand up on the roads brought him 1,113 shoeing jobs in December that year and on one day, he put on 96 shoes.

Business then began dropping off. In 1942, he put on 550 shoes and in 1943, a total of 563 for exactly the same number in two years as in his peak December.

Horseshoeing is a job that requires muscle as well as skill.

"They keep jerking their foot and, you’ve got to hold that," Stillwill explains. "If you let them put their foot down each time, you never get anything done."

Through the years, the shop on the corner of the school,………………………

………………nails go through the shell of the hoof, roughly equivalent to a human finger or toe nail, and the process is not painful. The nails then are clinched and cut off.

Shoes normally are good for three months when they should be re-set because a horse’s hoof grows. However, many present day saddle horses are shod only once a year, usually in the late Spring.

The predominate styles in horseshoes have changed over the years.

In the early days, Stilwill applied larger shoes with calks for workhorses

Now, most horses Stilwill shoes require small flat shoes with no calks because most of them are saddled horses and do no pulling.

But the basic needs are the same, whatever the style Stilwill feels he still can do as good a job as he did at the age of 17 when he won his father’s approval and a horse.

He’s ready to tie on his apron, fire up the forge and with hammer in hand to prove it.

NOTE: To date (2003) there have been five Roswell Boice Stilwills. The first two and their wives are buried in Jamestown Cemetery.

Roswell Boice Stilwill (1852-1924) married to Mana S. _______________
Roswell Boice Stilwill (1889-1964) married to Clarine TerHaar, called "R. B."
Roswell Boice Stilwill ( 192?- ) married to Myra Sneden, called "Ross"
Roswell Boice Stilwill (1957- ) married to Brenda Bricker, called "Rocky"
Roswell Boice Stilwill (1985- ) called "Rex"

Transcriber: Evelyn Sawyer
Created: 20 July 2003