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A talent to forge for Limestone resident

Blacksmithing, a time-honored craft, is in Jamie Tyree’s blood.
With blacksmiths on both sides of his family, through the whole family line, it seemed natural to Tyree that he learned to forge at age 12.
“It just sort of started out of necessity,” said the Limestone resident. “My brother and I liked to shoot bows and arrows. We were poor kids and didn’t have money to go buy things. But we figured out that if you held nails in a campfire and hammered them, you could make an arrow head.
“We made hundreds and hundreds of them. That was the bug that set it off. I didn’t really know what a blacksmith was, but out of necessity, I had started doing it.”
His first teacher was Dan Woods, a local mechanic and welder in Limestone.
Woods gave Tyree his first real anvil and blacksmith hammer and taught him how to build his first forge of just a wood frame filled with red clay dirt.
He still has the anvil and the hammer Woods gave him.
The following year, Tyree’s dad bought him his first blower at an auction and his grandfather, whose father had been a blacksmith, bought him a WWI Cavalry forge, which was foot-powered and could fold into a suitcase.
“They could carry it right to the front line and use it,” Tyree said.
His first crude creations were shingle froes, arrowheads and chain link.
At 14, he made and sold his first set of door hinges to a log cabin restorer for $5.
At 15, Tyree met professional blacksmith David Oliver, who was performing a forge demonstration at David Crockett Birthplace State Park in Limestone.
Oliver took Tyree under his wing, introducing him to the world of blacksmithing and selling him an upgraded stone firepot forge when he was 18.
By that point, Tyree’s skills had improved and he advanced to making hooks, pokers and shovels.
After graduating from high school, Tyree attended a local community college for a couple of years to be a machinist before Oliver helped him obtain an apprenticeship with professional blacksmith Elmer Roush.
Tyree remained in Roush’s shop for six months before he was called home to Limestone to help care for ailing grandparents.
By that time, he was skilled enough to take his wares on the road to nearby craft shows and demonstrations.
In 1996, Tyree secured a position in the shop of professional blacksmith Russell Odell in Greeneville.
Russell, who specializes in house smith items, worked with Tyree, helping him hone his craft for the next two years.
Tyree’s “real job” was working as a foundryman at Doehler/Jarvis, casting aluminum automotive parts. In January 1994, he was laid off from the job for a month.
During that time, Tyree took advantage of a scholarship to take a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School, a craft school, in Brasstown, N.C.
There he learned how to create colonial period cooking utensils, something that is still a favorite.
That month was enough to make him realize where his heart was. So he quit his “real job” on his birthday, April 30, 1994, and soon after, hung out his own shingle at Cedar Branch Forge, a timber frame structure he built himself with the help of his dad, behind his family’s old farmhouse in Limestone.
By 2006, his business had grown to include between six and eight workers and in one month during that year, he shipped over 1 ton of materials from the Forge.
But the next year was different. Tyree’s shop burned to the ground in 2007.
“ I lost everything,” he said. “I still haven’t recovered from that.”
With the help of friends and volunteers, he was able to rebuild his shop — made of metal, this time — but he was unable to return to the same high output he had before the fire.
“All of 2007, we were a year and half behind, trying to catch up with the back orders,” Tyree said. “Then the economy hit us like it did everybody else and everything slowed down.”
These days, he still works full-time forging his wares, but has only one part-time helper.
Tyree specializes in reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century museum-quality ironware such as door latch assemblies, hinges, decorative hooks, kitchen utensils and traditional tools.
His clients include period re-enactors, contractors and homeowners.
Many of his pieces have found homes in museums and his work can be found in numerous period homes across New England and has shipped to as far away as Germany, England and Japan.
Some of his notable projects include the re-creations of the utensil trestles and frying pans which were listed on the original house manifest for George Washington’s kitchen at Mount Vernon; the hinges on the garden gates at the Carter Mansion, a living museum in Elizabethton; the door hardware for New York Yankee pitcher Jimmy Keys’ summer home; and the kitchen hardware for the English home of singer Daryl Hall, of Hall & Oats.
He also created the metal flower basket hangers used throughout the Hotel Indonesia Kempinski in Jakarta, a “massive job,” Tyree recalled.
“So many people are getting back to their roots, living like their parents and grandparents did,” Tyree said. “This is certainly part of that movement.”
Tyree will be demonstrating his talents as a blacksmith during the Centennial Courthouse Celebration set for Aug. 9-10 in Jonesborough.