Until it closed its doors in 2006, the John Geist and Sons Blacksmith Shop was thought to be Nashville’s oldest business in continuous family ownership and operation. From 1886 to 2006, three generations of Geists shod horses, crafted ornamental ironwork, and, in later years, repaired lawnmowers from the same location on Jefferson Street. Wilhelmina Tennyson and John Geist Sr. emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1874. They settled in North Nashville’s “Germantown” area and in 1886 opened a blacksmith shop in a frame building. That shop was replaced around 1900 with a new brick building, which stands just west of today’s Jefferson Street Bridge.
Located between downtown and the bustling German American neighborhood, John Geist’s horseshoe shop served the needs of pre-automobile Nashville. During the plowing, racing, steamboating, and snow and ice seasons, horses would stand in line at the front double doors waiting to enter. A large skylight illuminated the wooden-floored shodding area. Selecting from blank shoes lining the walls and filling large wooden kegs, Geist would fire a shoe in the forge on the east wall and then hammer it to achieve the right fit. Below the street level was another shop area accessed from the rear. Geist used another forge there when working on wagons and wheel making.
As the automobile eclipsed the horse-drawn carriage and wagon, John Geist Jr. expanded his offerings to include decorative ironwork and taught his trade to his three sons. He continued to work at the forge until his death in 1976. His iron craftsmanship has adorned residences and churches such as Assumption Catholic Church and St. Pius X Catholic Church in Nashville. Until they retired in 2006, George and Ann Geist had a lawnmower repair service in the shop and continued to create ornamental ironwork.
The children of Catherine Baltz and John Geist Jr. now own the shop and the two adjoining houses. To the west of the shop is the original Geist residence, built around 1891. To the east stands a two-story brick residence built around 1908. The Geist properties, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, are both a rare vestige of Nashville’s blacksmith trade and a testament to the hard work of its German settlers.