Living history

The inaugural Hammer In at the Fort King National Historic Landmark brought frontier days skills to life.

Keith Hill, of Ocklawaha, a History Channel “Forged in Fire” program champion, demonstrates a technique at the Hammer In on Feb. 24, 2024, at the Fort King National Landmark in Ocala. The event, organized by Ocala Recreation and Parks, showcased the work of blacksmiths from the Florida Artist Blacksmiths Association. [Photo by Andy Fillmore]

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Posted February 26, 2024 | By Andy Fillmore,

The loud “clang” of blacksmith’s hammering metal rang out loud and clear on Feb. 24 during the Fort King Hammer In event at the Fort King National Historic Landmark as people stepped back in time to learn about the techniques and role of blacksmiths in frontier-era Florida.

An estimated 400 people attended the inaugural blacksmithing demonstration by members of the Florida Artist Blacksmith Association, which also was an event sponsor, along with Trailer Doc metal fabrication. The event was organized by the city of Ocala Recreation and Parks Department.

The park is located at 3925 SE Fort King St. The site is owned jointly by the city of Ocala and Marion County. The sprawling complex includes a marker denoting it as a National Historic Landmark and a replica of the wooden fort that stood in the vicinity around 1837.

The Hammer In was meant to “showcase the talents and skills” of the blacksmiths as they forged “historically accurate hardware and functional tools” for the blockhouses, gate doors of the wooden fort and the blacksmith shop that was built last May, noted the city’s website.

Janice Hill displays a frontier-era smooth bore .50 caliber flintlock long gun as her husband blacksmith Keith Hill demonstrates tools at the Hammer In on Feb. 24 at the Fort King National Landmark. [Photo by Andy Fillmore]

Keith Hill, of Ocklawaha, is a History Channel “Forged In Fire” blacksmithing competition champion and “construction site lead,” according to the website. He was on hand in the blacksmith shop, which stands just outside the main wooden fort. He and his wife, Janice Hill, wore period clothing as they gave demonstrations.  Keith displayed a 22-pound sledge and other tools of the trade. Janice, a historian, showed a .50 caliber smooth bore flintlock long gun used in the frontier days primarily for hunting game.

Bre Ximenes, outdoor historic programs coordinator with the park, said a dozen blacksmiths from Gainesville and Ocala worked at six forges during the event. She explained that Keith Hill had forged 2,000 nails and other hardware for the building of the blacksmith shop and was involved in the construction project.

Park signage states that in the Florida frontier days, the blacksmith shop was “key to survival and expansion,” with the smiths making essential items such as kitchen utensils, wagon wheels, hardware and horseshoes, and also providing gun repairs.

David and Jenny Biggs of Hawthorne, also outfitted in period clothing, were part of the blacksmith demonstration. David, a metal worker by trade, is with B & T Metals of Ocala and has fabricated copper trim work that is installed at the World Equestrian Center.  He demonstrated a hand-cranked fan that stokes the fire.

“He likes to do it,” Jenny Biggs said of her husband’s antique blacksmithing work.

One of the participating blacksmiths said that attendees at the Hammer In watched closely and asked focused questions about the work of a blacksmith.

To learn more, go to

David Biggs of Hawthorne demonstrates a hand-cranked fan at the inaugural Hammer In at the Fort King National Landmark. [Photo by Andy Fillmore]

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