Family-run Herndon Ironworks celebrates 50 years

John Owen, right, passed his ironworks firm to sons Tom, left, and Barry.
John Owen, right, passed his ironworks firm to sons Tom, left, and Barry. (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/fairfax County Times)
By Gregg MacDonald
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, April 22, 2010

Herndon Ornamental Ironworks, the family-owned business John Owen, 89, started 50 years ago, still is going strong.

But the World War II veteran said the company's future was not always ironclad.

The company builds ornamental ironwork, such as gates and fences, for custom-built houses.

In 1960, at 39, Owen was working as a welder at the U.S. Naval Gun Factory in the District and decided it was time to go into business for himself.

Owen had worked for others since he was 5. He grew up working for his family on their 400-acre tobacco plantation in South Boston, Va., later joining the U.S. Army and serving in the European theater during World War II.

While in the military, he picked up some basic welding skills. He later returned to Newport News, where he began welding ships for the U.S. Navy. Owen and his wife, Joan, moved to Vienna in the late 1940s, and Owen began working in at the Naval Gun Factory.

"By 1960, I just decided it was time to work for myself," he said.

Owen took his life savings, bought some commercial property in downtown Herndon and built his facility.

By word-of-mouth, Owen built up his business. The company made ornamental gates, fences and guardrails for houses being built in the area.

Owen's middle son, Barry, was 10 when the company opened in 1960.

"I began working there from day one," he said.

All three of Owen's sons worked at the company from young ages, eventually becoming full-time employees. But job security, even in the family-owned business, was not a foregone conclusion.

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