Home Up About Starr Papers Resources

AR Potters





Clay County

Dallas County

Hempstead County

Hot Spring County

Lonoke County

Miller County

Montgomerty County

Saline County

Sebastian County

Sharp County

Washington County




Throughout the years, Arkansas Archaeological Survey (AAS) archaeologists have reported many sites of stoneware manufacturing across the state. In 1972, Sam Smith reported the results of his study of Arkansas stoneware manufacturing sites, but much has been accomplished since that time. After he moved on to the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, he and Steve Rogers conducted an excellent statewide documentary and archaeological study of that state's stoneware industry (Smith and Rogers 1979, sadly, out-of-print.) Progress in surrounding states has been variable. Illinois has conducted a number of testing and mitigation projects, reported in a series of reports, of both early hand potteries (Walthall et al. 1991, Gums et al. 1997) and later large-scale, mechanized stoneware factories (Mansberger 1990, Mansberger 1997, Mansberger and Mounce 1993, Mounce 1988). I heartily recommend the Illinois reports to anyone interested in stoneware production. The Texas stoneware industry has seen considerable investigation (Greer and Black 1971, Humphreys and Schmidt 1976), while those of Alabama (Willet and Brackner 1983), and especially, Mississippi, have seen little. Zug (1986) has conducted a thorough documentary study of North Carolina's historic potters to accompany his detailed study of the state's surviving potting families. Sweezy's (1984) study, while including earthenware and art pottery operations, focuses on the surviving traditional stoneware potters of the South. These last two studies are well illustrated and are an excellent source of information about the layout of shops, the tools and techniques used, and how these traditions were transmitted across the generations. They report that potting was generally passed down in families, and some Southern families can now boast of six of more generations in the trade (Burrison 1976). Some of the primary documentary sources for the study of any state's nineteenth century stoneware industry are early geological reports (in Mississippi, for example, Foster 1940, Logan 1909, Lowe 1915, Vestal 1947; for Arkansas the primary geologic sources identified are Seibenthal 1894 and Branner 1908).

Since the early British settlement of North America, low-fired redwares and high-fired stonewares have been made wherever there was an adequate clay supply. In the Mid-South, pottery kilns are particularly common where the Wilcox formation outcrops. This pattern is also seen in the neighboring states of Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, because the Wilcox clays are well suited for ceramic products. Local stoneware kilns were important in the earlier and mid- nineteenth century, as they provided items essential to every household at a low cost. With the industrialization of the Ohio Valley, and the development of large steam-powered potteries in Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, the small operations of the South, often part-time ventures of farm families who used simple, homemade machines, were faced with increasing competition due to the economy entailed in mass-production and the easy transport by rail and water to all parts of the country. A few of the potting families, however, have maintained their tradition through the twentieth century and still sell stoneware from their small shops.

In the mid 1990s I began gathering information on various aspects of stoneware manufacture and use in the Mid-South. The sources of information are diverse. As mentioned, geologic studies often contain information on clay sources and clay use. Nearly every archaeological report of an historic homestead includes mention of stoneware crocks and churns but archaeologists seldom consider very deeply the uses or sources of these ubiquitous artifacts, unless they happen to encounter sherds marked by the manufacturer. Old cookbooks illuminate how stoneware was used in the kitchen (Texas Farm and Ranch Publishing Company1923). While I was employed by the AAS in the late 1990s, I collected such information on Arkansas stoneware kilns as was available from the site files, with the assistance of Registrar Lela Donat. While this study is incomplete, I am presenting the information here in hope of stirring interest in the topic. Many of the known kiln locations have never been visited for recording by archaeologists, so I hope this short article will inspire more fieldwork.


Before beginning the discussion of individual Arkansas stoneware manufacturers, a little background on stoneware is necessary. Local stoneware potteries used clays dug from small pits, and often used little preparation other than weathering in a bin and mixing in a pugmill of the same type used by brick makers. (Pugmills are cylindrical tanks with an internal shaft with paddles to mix wet clay. They were typically turned by horses or mules and it is not unusual to see blind animals employed in this way.) Therefore, the clays used by the local potters are often impure and sometime retain small pebbles and other foreign matter. The clays were used in an untempered state, and were prepared for throwing by blocking and wedging. (In this last process, large chunks of wet clay are repeatedly slammed against a stump or heavy table, cut or folded, and slammed down again. This physically demanding work completes the mixing of the clay in preparation for the potters wheel.) Most Mid-South potters used simple kick wheels, although some later potters rigged up gasoline engines to turn their wheels. In the South, steam driven potteries that could employ mechanical manufacturing (press-molding and jiggering or lathe turning) were rare, and so, almost all of their products retain the traces of the hand that turned the vessel. These hand and finger prints are most visible on the interior or unslipped surfaces.

Archaeologists typically classify stoneware, like other historic and prehistoric ceramics, by its surface finish. There are four main surface finishes that have been applied to stoneware, 1)salt glazing, 2)alkaline glazing, 3)Albany slipping, and 4) Bristol slipping. True glazes are applied as thin liquids, while slips are thick liquids that the vessel is dipped into. These surface finishes are needed because many local clays do not mature to a fully vitrified, waterproof state, so a glaze or slip is needed to render them impervious. The earliest glazes used were salt glazes, not a true liquid glaze but rather the result of an atmospheric chemical reaction. The salt glazed tradition began in late medieval Germany and was early introduced into Britain and the British colonies. The glaze is created by shoveling salt (NaCl) into the kiln during firing. The salt vaporizes, releasing poisonous, acidic hydrogen chloride gas, while the sodium bonds with the silica in the clay to form a shiny, often slightly pebbly glaze. Archaeologists often describe the salt glaze surface as resembling an orange peel in texture. The glaze is generally clear, taking on the color of the underlying ware, but due to many mineral impurities in the salts used, can take on a wide range of colors. Sometimes handpainted decoration was applied prior to glazing; this decoration is invariably of "smalt" derived from cobalt ores. This blue color, also popular on refined (white bodied) earthenwares as handpainting and transfer printing and on porcelain, was particularly important to early ceramic industries as it was one of the only colors that could withstand high temperatures without burning away. However, cobalt was expensive, being made from ores imported from the German and Scandinavian states. It was rarely used by small-time potters in the American South. It is, however, highly characteristic of the early Northeastern and Midwestern potteries, who faced greater competition in the trade.

The second major tradition, alkaline glazing, is strongly linked with Southern potters from the Carolinas to Texas. The alkaline glaze (Greer 1971, 1977) created by grinding burned glass ("frit") and sometimes burned flint/chert and mixing the resulting powder with wood-ash lye (hence the name alkaline) and sand. A small stone handmill of the same type used to grind baked lead for redware glazes was used. There has been some speculation that this glaze was an intentional imitation of contemporary Chinese stoneware glazes, but it may just as well have been an independent invention of the upcountry Carolina potters who could not afford the large amounts of salt needed for salt glazing and who had some understanding of the chemistry of lead glazes used on softer, lower-fired redwares. Alkaline glazes also vary widely in color, but tend towards shades of green and yellow. The surface is generally glossy but sometimes retains unmelted sand grains. The presence of alkaline glazes often indicates site occupation in the first half of the nineteenth century, but some is still used by modern potters. Likewise, later industrial potters used forms of alkaline glazes; the tan portion of British ginger beer bottles is a form of this glaze.

The third major glaze is the Albany slip, named for the region of New York state where this brown glacial clay was mined. Later, deposits were found throughout the Upper Midwest, and it was also marketed as Michigan clay. Some local clays in other parts of the country were found to form substitutes, so the Albany slips form a heterogeneous group of materials. These clays, when formed into a liquid slurry or slip, are used to immerse the un-fired vessel. It will adhere to most stoneware bodies and forms an impervious surface on otherwise slightly permeable wares. As soon as railroads linked the South with the clay deposits of the upper tier of states, large amounts of this slip clay were exported by the bag and carload and were widely purchased by even small-time potters. The color range of materials classified as Albany slip varies from almost black, through many shades of brown, to a mahogany or leather red color. It is typically glossy and smooth and covers surface imperfections such as finger marks.

With increasing concerns for sanitary food preparation in the late nineteenth century, the dark Albany slip decreased in popularity in favor of a zinc-based chemical slip named after the English city of Bristol where it was first used. Bristol slips are generally white, creamy, or pale grey, sometimes with tiny "pinprick" pits caused by air bubbles. These slips were used to a certain extent by local stoneware manufacturers, but they saw their main use in factories, where they were applied to machine-made vessels. From about 1880-1920 Bristol slip was often used in combination with Albany slip to achieve a two-tone finish, but after WWI, Bristol slip was typically used alone. Bristol slip was especially desirable because in addition to its "cleanly" appearance, stenciled or sponged cobalt blue, and other late high-firing colors, could be applied over the Bristol slip, enhancing the item's marketability and allowing the manufacturer or his client to advertise their wares by including a name or logo.

Clay County

Rector Kiln Site or Reeves' Work (3CY119) lies on 5th Street in Rector. As documents indicated that a Garner and Grubbs firm produced pottery at Rector around 1897-98, Smith (1972) followed leads from local people and recorded this site. Although the site had been damaged by later development, Smith was able to make a surface collection. Doss Reeves and his son Jeff used clay from a pit at Scatterville and formed it on kick wheels in a two-story frame shop that also housed a cooper. The Reeves made slipped and salt-glazed jugs, storage jars, and churns. The kiln, at the rear of the building, was also used to dry barrel staves. Smith surmised that J.C. Garner and Grubbs were business partners who owned the factory where the Reeves worked; Garner sold the lot in 1898. A small collection from the garden of the house standing on the site in 1972 yielded 10 slipped and salt-glazed sherds, a few pieces of kiln furniture (wads and bars of clay used as spacers during firing), and brick fragments.

Dallas County

Dallas County in southwest Arkansas was one of the major centers of stoneware production in Arkansas. The county lies largely within the Wilcox formation. As is the pattern throughout the Mid-South, Wilcox clays in Arkansas were favored for stoneware production and the area still has an art pottery tradition. Watkins (1982:1) notes that the 1843-1910 stoneware industry of Dallas County grew up around the towns of Princeton and Tulip. Princeton lay at the intersection of the Camden to Little Rock road and the Arkadelphia to Pine Bluff road. Due to its inland location, shipping costs from river ports were high, perhaps contributing to the success of a local stoneware industry which was forced to rely on wagon transportation (Watkins 1982:2).

The Dallas County stoneware industry is best known from the work of the Byrd or Bird family. Four brothers, Joseph, Nathanial, William L., and James, were all born to William C. Byrd of North Carolina, beginning in the 1820s. Census record show three William Byrds, all resident in North Carolina counties with potting traditions. A surviving churn stamped "J. and N. Bird" is also incised on the base with "Manufactured by Joseph and Nathanial Bird in the State of Arkansas, Clark County, May 1843" (Dallas County was created from Clark County in 1845). Watkins (1982:3) suggests that the stamp indicates a prior experience in potting and that the incision may commemorate the brothers' first Arkansas kiln burning.

Watkins (1982:3-6) has accumulated detailed information from public records concerning the family and their economic activity in Dallas County; this information is given below to show something of the material situation of this important potting family. Like most Southern potters, they were far from wealthy, although their other enterprises eventually made them comfortable. Joseph married in 1844 and the next year his property was evaluated at $721, including a slave, a horse, a mule, and three cattle. William C. arrived to settle in Smith Township near his sons in 1845, after a stay in Tennessee, where additional children were born. Nathaniel married in 1848 and entered a claim for 171 acres which included one of their kiln locations. In 1850, James, the youngest of the brothers, still lived with his father, who owned two slaves, a horse, two cattle, and 80 acres of land. Joseph, who by then owned four horses and five cattle, was running a sawmill while William L. was working for Nathanial in the pottery. J. and N. Bird are listed as sawmillers rather than potters in the 1850 industrial census. Nathanial owned a slave, a horse, and two cattle; Joseph paid the taxes on Nathanial's land that year while William L. was still propertyless. In 1851, Nathanial assigned his land claim to Maurice Smith and the next year entered a claim for a nearby 240 acres which he assigned to James Harris in 1852. At about this time, the Birds began to move the center of their operations towards the center of the county. In 1851 J. and N. Bird bought land northwest of Princeton, where their later operations would be located.

The Bird Kiln (3DA12) near Leola was the site of some of the first stoneware manufacturing in Arkansas. It was originally built in 1843 by Joseph and Nathanial Bird. This would be the kiln where the stamped and inscribed vessel mentioned above was burned. This first Bird pottery was operated until 1851 or 1852, when a new site nearer Princeton was taken up. The products such as jugs, crocks, and churns were salt glazed and were distributed in southern Arkansas (Smith 1972, Siebenthal 1894, Greer 1971).

In cooperation with the landowner the site was nominated to and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. On the nomination form, the site is described as being in a pasture and consisting of a partially collapsed groundhog kiln, excavated into the side of a hill above a tributary of Tulip Creek. Some of the wasters had been removed, but other sherds and kiln furniture remained in association with the kiln ruins.

Welch Pottery Works (3DA9) was also reported by Sam and Beverly Watkins in 1972 as a recently looted large mound of broken pottery dating to the mid to late nineteenth century. They made a collection (72-98) of vessel fragments and kiln furniture, which they donated to the Survey. In 1974, the site was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places; in 1975 Ann Early (Survey Archeologist at Henderson State University) took a photographer to the site for additional documentation. At that time the reported spoil piles and house foundations were difficult to locate due to dense undergrowth.

Stewart-Abernathy revisited the site in 1978, finding it clearcut and marked by several thousand sherds (collection 78-431). A longitudinal trench, possibly the kiln site, was identified at that time, indicating that the typical Southern rectangular "groundhog" kiln was used there. In 1983, Early visited the site again with representatives of the International Paper Co. to verify and mark the location so that it would be avoided by future logging activities. They also spent some time looking for a springhouse thought to have been downslope from the site's house. Early reported additional details about the site while conducting a search of the General Land Office (GLO) plats. Byrd's pottery, sawmill, and two fields appear on the 1857 plat.

The National Register nomination states that the pottery at 3DA9 was begun by the Bird brothers as their second pottery, begun in 1851 or 1852. In 1860, the Birds sold the operation to their former apprentice John C. Welch, who worked at the site until he moved his operations to Wave, Arkansas, ca. 1891. From 1860 until 1890, this was the preeminent pottery in the area, at some times being the only one active. The salt-glazed Welch products were marketed in Tulip, Princeton, and probably larger towns such as Malvern and Arkadelphia, although the exact region of marketing is unknown. Welch and/or his apprentices may have experimented to some extent with alkaline glazing as well, perhaps, when salt was dear, as it was during the Civil War. In 1979, Mike Swanda photographed a private collection of vessels said to have been made at 3DA9. They were a white-slipped wide-mouthed jug, a white-slipped vase and a salt glazed pitcher. Further descriptions of the archaeological site are also included in the National Register nomination. The site also includes the location of a cabin and sawmill as well as three spoil piles about 20' in diameter and 6-8' high downslope from the cabin and kiln. Some bricks are included with the wasters and kiln furniture. Jugs, churns, crocks, and flower pots were manufactured at the Bird and Welch potteries. Oral history relates that the kiln was dismantled and moved ca. 1891. The clay source reportedly lay in the creek bottoms. The house, marked by square nails, bricks, and refined earthenware sherds, lay near an early road along a ridgetop, the high interfluvial ridge between Tulip Creek and Browns Creek.

As one of the earliest, most prosperous, and longest used potteries in Arkansas, 3DA9 has great significance for research into the development, maturity, and decline of the local stoneware industry (additional information can be found in Winburn 1938, Goodspeed 1860, Smith 1972, Siebenthal 1891).

Welch's Kiln #2 (3DA8) was reported by Sam and Beverly Watkins in 1972. The location was found to be marked by a partially collapsed kiln with a waster dump (trash pile of vessels that cracked, stuck together, or exploded during firing) of sherds and kiln furniture; the material collected was donated to the Survey (collections 72-97, 74-217). The site was considered to date roughly to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1978, Leslie Stewart-Abernathy visited the site and described the standing ruins as a brick-lined rectangular kiln in the side of a hill and made another surface collection (78-432).

The Nathaniel Culberson pottery (3DA21) was reported in 1974 by Sam and Beverly Watkins, who dated it to 1858-1865, after Siebenthal (1894). The material collected by the Watkins consisted of brown and gray salt-glazed ware, largely thick and porous, with large diameter vessels and some low profile bowls/plates. A " diameter artifact, possibly a pipestem, and some brick with heavy glaze are also reported (collection 74-216). Salt-glazing kilns acquire a thick glaze on the interior at the same time as the pots.

Stewart-Abernathy revisited this site in 1978 also, to make another surface collection (78-429, 430). He reported that "there was a trench into the side of a rise" as well as waster piles. The site lies on a gentle slope over Pickett Creek and consists of a spoil pile about 12' in diameter and 3-4' high and a midden about 200 m away that may or may not be an associated domestic area. Early reported in 1983 that this house midden consisted of dark soil and sparse historic ceramics (1 transfer print sherd and 2 salt glaze crockery sherds, collection 83-350). Her sketch map shows a depression, possibly a well, and two "spoil piles" about 30' apart. The area had been damaged somewhat by logging. The land is owned by the International Paper Co., and the site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places

The Nunn Pottery (3DA540) was reported by the Watkins in 1982, based on a report in Seibenthal (1894:318), without a field visit. The indicated location of this mid-1870s stoneware manufactory lies at the head of a broad valley. The ware was reportedly fine, hard, and closebodied, apparently based on fragments examined by Siebenthal. E.A. Nunn, a brother-in-law of John C. Welch of sites 3DA8 and 3DA9, operated the pottery before moving to Malvern where he established the company that became Acme Brick.

The William L. Bird Pottery (3DA542) was reported by Beverly Watkins in 1982. The pottery operated from the late 1860s until the mid 1880s. The assignment of the site number is based on Siebenthal (1894); she did not visit the site. This is the location taken up by the younger Bird after the Civil War, with 3DA12 and 3DA9 being locations of his earlier work. He moved to Texas in the 1880s. This site lies on a long slope near the Dallas, Hot Spring, and Grant county lines. The location has not been visited by archaeologists.

The Lafayette Glass Kiln (3DA543) was also reported by Beverly Watkins in 1982. This 1870s location is also based on Siebenthal (1894), without a field visit, but there is extensive documentation of the Glass pottery. The location, an upland interfluve, should be visited. As a migrant throughout much of the south, Lafayette Glass was a critical factor in the dissemination of the potting trade, and his life story is worthy of a novel.

Glass was born in Tennessee in 1830. By 1858 he was in Texas and in 1860 he was operating a pottery in Daingerfield, Texas, but by 1868 he was in Dallas County, Arkansas, where he was taxed for a horse, a mule, and three cattle. Later, he moved to Benton, Arkansas, but by 1880 was living in Yalobusha County, Mississippi, with another potter, B.F. Ussery, where he died before 1890. His son W.A. Glass operated potteries in Benton, Saline County; Sulphur Rock, and Independence County (Goodspeed 1890; Smith 1972, 1979; Winburn 1938).

Hempstead County

Branner (1908:239) states that in 1906 the Spring Hill Pottery Co. was in operation in Spring Hill. The material used was a white Tertiary clay (probably Wilcox formation); the ware was dried in a closed shed and fired in a down draft kiln. The location has not been identified and no site number has been assigned.

Hot Spring County

Hot Spring County lies along the eastern front of the Ouachita Mountains. Like much of upland Arkansas, it has long had a diversified small farm-based economy. The antebellum development of the community of Hot Springs as a health resort created a steady demand for marketing of the rural and suburban population's table-ready produce (especially chickens and eggs) and artisans' products (such as woodwork and crystals); this tourism was greatly increased after the Civil War with the construction of a rail spur to the springs.

The James Bird Pottery (3HS162) was reported by Beverly Watkins in 1982, based on an archival source (Siebenthal 1894:317) which had been successfully used to predict several Dallas County kiln sites. This one of the Bird brothers began the Hot Spring County pottery in 1844 but only burned a few kilns there. The location indicated is on a ridgecrest south of Lono. The location has not been visited by archaeologists.

Lonoke County

Site 3LO231 was reported as a prehistoric scatter, an historic farmstead on a ca. 1900 stagecoach route, and a "possible local kiln" by John Riggs in 1979. A horseshoe, glass, stoneware, porcelain doll parts, and projectile points are reported to have been found around a modern barn. The setting on the Grand Prairie in the Arkansas Valley makes it an unlikely location for a pottery, as alluvium would have probably been the only clay source. This is a doubtful pottery kiln, but is included here until a revisit or more information can be used to update the site record.

Miller County

Miller County in southwest Arkansas also has significant exposures of the Wilcox formation. Branner (1908:240) states that in 1906 the Interstate Pottery Co. was in operation in Texarkana. They worked a white Tertiary clay, dried it in a closed shed, and fired it by down-draft kiln. The location should be identifiable through documents such as Sanborn insurance maps and city business directories. No site number has been assigned. When the location is better known, a visit should be made to determine if any archaeological deposits are still present.

Montgomery County

Branner (1908:240) states that in 1906 James & Robinson operated a stoneware pottery in Oden, with an office in Story. They worked a residual clay, dried it in a closed shed and fired it in a down-draft kiln. No site report for the James & Robinson pottery has been filed with the Survey.

Saline County

Branner (1908:240) states that in 1906 the Eagle Pottery Co. of Benton operated a stoneware pottery that worked a white Tertiary clay. The ware was dried in a shed and fired in a down-draft kiln. This site has not been identified on the ground.

Sebastian County

Sebastian County lies in extreme western Arkansas, along the Oklahoma state line and south of the Arkansas River. The clays of the Ouachita Mountain section of the state are not particularly well suited to stoneware manufacture.

The Robert A. Caldwell Kiln (3SB597) was reported by in 1989 by Jeffrey Blakely of Archeological Assessments, Inc. (Nashville, Arkansas) as a ca. 1869-1887 pottery manufacturing site now manifest as a scatter of kiln debris. Stoneware, earthenware, kiln furniture, and three small whiteware sherds were found in a 20 x 20 m scatter in a road and pasture pointed out by informants (including the landowner and Robert Caldwell's great-grandson and great-granddaughter). Some material was evidently collected, as Blakely reports retaining some sherds for destructive ceramic analysis. Blakely stated that Highway 10 may have obliterated the actual kiln site; however, he only spent 15 minutes during a rain on the site without seeing an obvious kiln or other structural remains. The site lay on a slope between the Old Greenwood Road and a small creek. The pottery is shown on the Atlas of Sebastian County (1889).

In 1994, David Williamson of the Arkansas Highways and Transportation Department revisited the site, finding it impacted by previous highway construction, but not to be impacted by the current road work. In a half-hour visit, he observed artifacts in the previously mentioned road and dug shovel tests in an adjacent wooded area. These tests produced brick, ceramics, and glass, but no material was collected.

A manuscript appended to the Blakely site form provides more information on the Caldwell pottery. Robert Alan Caldwell (1814-1888) is listed in the 1870 and 1880 Marion Township, Sebastian County, census as a potter. The family had a long history as potters in Missouri. The son of Thomas Caldwell, Robert was born in Kentucky. The family moved to Callaway County, Missouri, in 1826. He is listed as a farmer in the 1850 census but as a farmer also engaged in manufacturing in 1840. In 1857 Robert Caldwell moved his family to Lamar Township, Barton County, Missouri, and there established a pottery. He and his sons Henry T. (1840-1925) and James (1843-1863) are listed as potters in the 1860 census. This area around Lamar, Missouri, is still called Jugtown; it was an important pottery area from the mid-nineteenth through early twentieth centuries. In 1861 they moved to Cane Hill in Washington County, Arkansas, where Henry Caldwell may have operated a pottery with J.D. Wilbur ca. 1861-1868 (see below); they were at any rate neighbors. Robert and his sons Henry, James, and John (1846-1935) served in the Confederate army, with Henry becoming a major and running the Louisiana state pottery in 1865.

In 1868 and 1869, the Caldwells moved to Marion Township, Sebastian County, Arkansas, and bought land west of Greenwood where Robert would develop a pottery by 1870. The 1870 census shows that he operated his shop for eight months in 1869; it had a $400 capitalization, including a horse-turned pugmill and produced $500 worth of ware using $100 worth of material and paying $100 wages for four men (conjecturally, Robert, Henry, John, and Charles N. (1849-1882) Caldwell). There is a record of John having worked at a pottery between Jenny Lind and Greenwood, the general area of Robert's shop before he moved to southern Sebastian County ca. 1873. In 1870, Henry moved to Benton, Arkansas, and established a pottery and general store. John moved to Salem (Witcherville), Arkansas, and then to Mansfield, Arkansas, where he worked with wood and as an undertaker; he is known to have produced some ceramic gravemarkers as well. Robert continued to operate the pottery after his sons left. In the 1880 census the 66-year-old Robert Caldwell was still listed as a potter. The pottery was still extant at the time of the County Atlas survey, but Caldwell died in 1888, and by 1903 the shop location had a school on it.

Clays of Arkansas (Branner 1908), based on data collected in 1889, states that Caldwell's ware was sold in Greenwood. Two years after Caldwell's death, it was reported that the pottery had not been operated for some years, indicating that production ceased ca. 1885.

The McConnell-Osborne or Cumbie pottery (3SB596) was also reported by Blakely as part of the Ft. Chaffee cultural resources inventory. The site dated ca. 1883-1891 and consisted of structural remains and a waster pile. The 20 x 10' kiln was made of sandstone with clay mortar; the lower courses of the groundhog kiln were still in place atop a small mound; the vault had collapsed. The sandstone was partially vitrified and coated with salt glaze. The firebox faced south and the chimney was on the north side; the large waster dump lay southwest of the firebox. Kiln remnants, sherds, and kiln furniture were the only materials recovered from this 18 x 18 m scatter. The workshop location was not identified, but Blakely did report that the shop area was under water. Two days of work at the site consisted of making a surface collection from the waster dump and excavating a test unit into the kiln. Additional sherds were recovered from the fill around the kiln. Charles and Jeff Cumbie were also interviewed and a vessel made at the kiln in possession of a descendent of the kiln owner is mentioned in the site report. Some sherds were retained by Archeological Assessments, Inc., for "destructive ceramic analysis," but the outcome of these studies is unknown. Sources for the site are the Atlas of Sebastian County (1887), Branner's (1908) Clays of Arkansas, Bennett and Watkins 1987, and Blakely and Bennett (1988).

Further details, apparently furnished by Blakely, are found in a fragment of a manuscript appended to the site form. The Osborn-McConnell Pottery appears on the 1887 Atlas in the Cornish (Carnis) community, on a small mound near a mill pond adjacent to the Greenwood-Bloomer Road. The land on which the pottery lay was patented to Robert Houston McConnell (1815-1889) as a 200 acre tract in 1857. He sold parts of the tract to his son James Hawkins McConnell (1843-1938) and to his son-in-law Nathaniel Hazzard Osborn (1838-1923). The two brothers-in-law farmed there from 1867 until 1885. In 1881 or 1882, Osborn and J.H. McConnell formed a partnership that eventually included a gin, mill, store, and pottery, all located on Osborn's portion of the original estate, which formed the core of Cornish. The 1880 census shows them as immediate neighbors, with Osborn employing two laborers. In 1885 J.H. McConnell sold his farm, and perhaps his interest in the business partnership. By the 1890s, another of Osborn's brothers-in-law, William O. McConnell was in partnership in the gin and store.

According to the manuscript, neither of the men were potters, but rather entrepreneurs who hired potters as part of their diversified interests. The only known potter associated with the site was Nathan Gamble Cumbie (Comby) (1867-1953), born in Georgia or Alabama and removed to Sebastian County in 1881 or 1882, who apparently ran the pottery from ca. 1885-1891. The family is believed not to have previously worked as potters, leading to the assertion that Cumbie learned the trade in Sebastian County. In a 1988 interview with Nathan Cumbie's son Charles, Charles stated that his father learned the potting trade from an unknown potter already employed by Osborn and McConnell; this unknown potter may have been Robert A. Caldwell. He also recalled that the pottery was not very successful, as many vessels broke during drying and firing, perhaps due to a poor clay source or to Cumbie's inexpertness, and that he quit the work at Christmas, 1891, when he married.

Further information concerning "Comby's pottery" comes from Clays of Arkansas (Branner 1908):

The kiln was a small one, built of stone cemented with clay, and was half underground-the kind of kiln sometimes called "groundhog." It was not adapted to salt glazing; and the Albany slip or black glaze was used. Sometimes a little salt was thrown into the kiln, but it affected only the ware at the front of the kiln next to the fire, and that not always beneficially. There was nothing to protect the ware from ashes of the fire, and every time a fresh supply of fuel was added or the fire touched the lighter ashes were sent in a shower among the hot ware, to settle down on the articles in the process of burning to become fixed to them by the glaze. The result of this is that the ware, especially that portion of it next to the fire, presents anything but a pleasing appearance. With such a method offering, a good class of pottery could not be made even with the best of pottery clays. The poor results obtained at this pottery must be attributed for the most part to the methods employed in burning the ware, though it is in part due to poor raw material or the improper treatment of the clay. The ware from this clay is of poor quality and consists chiefly of such articles as are in local demand, such as churns, jugs, crocks, and jars. No other kinds of ware have been manufactured.

After the site was tested in 1989 it was revisted in 1992 to mark surrounding trees and to obtain Magellan UTM/latitude-longitude readings, at which time it was found to be either inundated or surrounded by water from a mill pond. The site was considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places; protection from vandalism and military activity was recommended. The site was again revisited in 1995, and a site revisit form was filed stating that the site had not suffered any further damage, although the area was still flooded.

Sharp County

Sharp County lies in north Arkansas, along the Ozark escarpment. The Peebles Place kiln (3SH15) is mentioned by Sam Smith in 1972 and by Stewart-Abernathy in 1978. Smith notes that 3SH15 was a salt-glazing kiln and that correspondence with Georgeanna Greer indicated a date ca. 1830-1860/70, which fits with the assumption that the kiln was in operation prior to the purchase of the tract by the Peebles family. Smith (1972) reports that this fairly substantial and largely intact rural pottery site was found "accidentally" and that no historic documentation of it had been found. Land records should be researched to determine who owned the land prior to the Peebles. The site condition and apparent early date indicate that this is an important site.

The 3SH15 kiln and associated domestic site lay in the narrow bottom of the entrenched meandering Strawberry River in South Lebanon Township. The scatter of disturbed kiln debris lies at the location of the house reportedly already on the site when Thomas Peebles bought the land around 1869-1874. Descendants had no record of Peebles having operated a kiln. A limestone lined feature, resembling a well, had been filled with late 19th or early 20th century trash and, in 1972, the top 25" of stone had been dug out. The site lay on a 5-8 foot high ridge and the limestone-lined cavity was about 25" in diameter. This feature may be either a cistern or a circular kiln. There were other depressions on the ridge and one informant reported removing much rock from the site to make it easier to farm. A "burned area" is also reported. Surface collections were made (72-496, 72-587, 78-301) and photographs taken.

Materials reported by Smith included wasters generally showing some deformity totaling 958 rims, 25 body, 24 bases, 5 handles, 4 lugs, and 3 "churn neckliners." Churns may be the predominant vessel type, cups/mugs were also made. Two sherds have a stamped "I" in a dotted circle, 2 rims have notched lips, and 16 sherds are incised. Glazes were characterized as 38% gray (i.e. salt), 25% dark gray to olive (also salt?), 18% dull brown "glaze" or Albany slip, 8% glassy brown. Also, 73 chunks of "glaze" were recovered; they are described as predominately rectilinear (these are perhaps spacers or "wads" or brick fragments). Materials that may not be directly associated with the kiln are 16 refined earthenware sherds (1 plain pearlware, 3 plain whiteware, 2 shell-edged pearlware, 3 blue transfer, 1 "crest emblem transfer" (backmark?), 4 handpainted, 2 blue); 1 sherd of thin, highly-glazed, brown stoneware unlike that made at the site; 2 green bottle glass shards, and 1 porcelain figurine fragment. These domestic materials sound like an early nineteenth century site, which is in agreement with the estimated date of the kiln's use.

Washington County

Washington County lies in the northeast Arkansas Ozarks region, where there are scattered pockets of residual clay somewhat suited to stoneware manufacture.

The J.D. Wilbur or Roark and Wilbur Pottery (3WA208), also known as the Canehill Pottery, lay about a mile south of Canehill. In 1972, the site was in excellent condition as the landowner had protected it since acquiring the property in 1908. When reported by Patrick Martin, then a graduate student at the University of Arkansas, a stone beehive kiln 26' in diameter and 3 ' high was still standing and there was a waster dump south of the kiln. The remnants of the arch showed heavy glazing, typically indicative of salt glazing. Stone foundations of the pottery building were also evident. A collection (University of Arkansas Museum 00-215) was made of stoneware and redware sherds, both glazed and unglazed, some with the stamped mark "ROARK&WILBUR, Boonesboro, Ark." Martin also reported that S.C. Dellinger collected some "Cane Hill Ware," including drain tile. In addition, Martin found a 1936 letter from Dellinger to Carl Guthe, University of Michigan museums, stating

This jar was secured from Mrs. Matt Howard who lives one mile south of Morrow Town. It was bought about 62 years ago [ca. 1884] during the first week she was married. It was purchased from J.D. Wilbur for ten cents. On the side of the jar is the name, J.D. Wilbur, Boonesborro. The name Boonesboro was later changed to Cane Hill. Ware of this type, which is quite scarce now, is locally know as Cane Hill Ware.

In 1979, Gayle Fritz of the Survey revisited the site and filed a supplemental site form for the "Canehill Pottery." She corrected Martin's initial assessment of the pottery as potentially antebellum, indicating that it most likely post-dated 1875. She took photographs, interviewed the landowner, and measured the site at about 100 square meters, a roughly oval scatter, with a concentration of material around the kiln and structure area and another at the waster dump. Fritz appended a page from "In Cane Hill" an undated paper prepared by Henry G. Heiss. The description of the Wilbur pottery, exerpted below, appears between descriptions of milling and apple orchards.

Of the many products manufactured in Cane Hill, perhaps the most well-known is pottery from J.D. Wilbur's pottery kiln. The Wilbur pottery operation was located on a spring flowing into Jordon Creek just south of town. The operation consisted of a pottery building, a "ground-hog" type pottery kiln, and an extensive waste dump. The kiln was a dirt mound supporting a rock arch in which the pottery was fired. The kiln was circular in plan, about four feet high and about twenty feet in diameter at the base of the dirt mound. Local tradition claims that the Wilbur pottery was producing before the Civil War, perhaps as early as 1850. Known as Boonesboro pottery, this pottery was rather crude in nature, but its presence in Arkansas at this time is significant.

Also attached to Fritz's report are three photographs, presumably from the Heiss manuscript, of a pitcher and of two views of the kiln mound, with captions mentioning the glazed stone arch.

Patrick Martin corresponded with Georgeanna Greer to obtain further information about the Wilbur and Roark families of potters. A.E. Wilbur was 83 years old when Greer conducted a brief telephone interview with him (Greer to Martin, 1972).

A.E. Wilbur reported that his grandfather, A.D. Wilbur, came to Arkansas from Zaneville, Ohio, around 1876. The Wilburs seem to have moved from Arkansas to Texas and back at least once, as Greer knew of a yellowish small jar impressed "A.D. Wilbur, Alton," made in a small town near Denton, Texas, where there were potteries ca. 1857-1885. However, the Wilburs were in Benton County, Arkansas, at the time of A.E.'s birth ca. 1888. A.D. was listed in the Texas State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1894-1895 as "manufacturer of all kinds of stoneware jugs, jars, churns, flower pots, and fruit jars" in Texarkana, Arkansas (see entry above for Miller County). Several other men of the family were potters, including G.E. (relationship not stated) and A.E.'s uncles Art and Charles, who eventually worked for the Dickey Sewer Pipe Co. of San Antonio, Texas. A.E. himself went to the Dallas, Texas, area from Benton County around 1920 to work in the potteries around Dallas. He was first a partner in the Love Field Pottery and then opened his own works, the Ideal Pottery (ca. 1921-1969).

Greer also reported that Roarks are listed as potters in the 1870 and 1880 censuses for Denton County, Texas: James (age 33, born in Missouri) in the 1870 census and James (age 43) and John (age 16, born in Texas) in the 1880 census. A kiln 10 miles east of Denton produced sherds stamped with "ROARK;" the site was, however, damaged by the use of the wasters to terrace a garden (this may be the same site that she states was excavated by Sandra Myres, Department of History, University of Texas at Arlington). In concordance with James Roark's Missouri birth, the Denton County sites are characterized as part of the Northern and Mid-western tradition: salt glazing, sometimes over local or Albany slips, with some "cobalt slip trailing" with numbers and "calligraphic swirls" being the primary motifs. She concludes by stating that while there are some Southern tradition or alkaline glaze sites in Arkansas and Texas, but that the Wilbur and Roark families appear to have worked in the Northern or salt glaze-cobalt decorated tradition.


Only a few of the potteries known to have operated in Arkansas have been assigned archaeological site numbers, and of those that have, not all have been visited by archaeologists. The work of finding the potteries generally has to begin with review of written documents. These include, first and foremost, county land transfer records. Smith and Rodgers (1979) began their survey of Tennessee stoneware potters with an examination of the industrial schedules of the Federal decennial census. Other potential sources include early detailed county maps, city business directories, Sanborne insurance maps, and articles of incorporation. Many of these potteries, and others not known to the late nineteenth century geologists, are probably mentioned in county histories. Whenever descendants of potting families are found, they should be interviewed for family information and asked if they have any specimens of their ancestor's work. Important information includes the potter's place of birth and raising, other family members who were potters, the source of the clay, the color or type of glaze used, the vessel shapes made, and the means of distribution and sale. Most rural Southern potters did not mark their ware. It has been noted that the Birds used a stamp as early as the 1840s and that the Wilbur and Roark operation decorated some of their wares in the Mid-Western cobalt blue tradition, so they likely had a manufacturer's mark as well. After the rise of the white Bristol slip, many vessels were stenciled in blue with the name of the client (typically a grocery, hardware, or liquor distributor), but some manufacturers labeled the vessels with their own name as well. People who collect stoneware as art objects especially favor marked wares, so interviews with these collectors may turn up other important information.

I have not examined the artifact collections that are available for the known Arkansas potteries. These should be carefully studied in terms of form, clay body, glaze, and any other distinguishing characteristics, so that the material can be compared to sherd collections from historic house sites in the same region to determine how widely the wares of local potteries were distributed. Archaeologists generally assume that stoneware is a rather nondiagnostic artifact class, useful only for very broad dating. This cannot be proven or disproven until such studies have been undertaken.

The historically documented potteries include both early hand potteries, such as those of the Bird family and the men they trained, and later, at least partly mechanized potteries. The hand potteries generally used the groundhog kiln, a long, low kiln almost always built as a trench walled with brick and at least partly covered with the excavated earth. By around 1900, the industrial kilns usually used jug or bee-hive shaped above-ground circular downdraft kilns. Most of these of the later type, particularly in urban areas, have probably been demolished for their firebrick and iron bands. When kiln sites are recorded, an effort should be made to collect not only the fire-damaged sherds or wasters, but also the lumps of burned clay used as spacers and other kiln furniture and fragments of the type of brick used. The surface of the site should be examined for depressions that would indicate the location of the kiln, soaking pits, wells, roads, and workshops. The water source and clay source are generally nearby and an effort should be made to locate them as well. Samples of the clay should be made in case someone wants to conduct a geochemical analysis of the clay for sourcing studies.

There is a great deal to be learned about the history of stoneware in Arkansas. I encourage anyone interested in historical archaeology to be on the lookout for information about the manufacturers of their area, and to file site reports for any kilns with which they are familiar. I intend to continue this study and would be most happy to assist in recording sites or collections, or to hear from anyone with more information.



Branner, John C. 1908 The Clays of Arkansas. U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington.

Burrison, John A. 1976 The Meaders Family of Mossy Creek. Georgia State University Art Gallery, Atlanta.

Foster, V.M. 1940 Lauderdale County Mineral Resources. Mississippi State Geological Survey Bulletin 41.

Goodspeed Publishing Co. 1860 Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas. Chicago. 1890 Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas. Chicago.

Greer, Georganna 1971 Preliminary Information on the Use of Alkaline Glaze for Stoneware in the South, 1800-1900. The Conference on Historic Site Archaeology Papers 1970, Vol I, Part 2.

1977 Alkaline Glazes and Groundhog Kilns: Southern pottery traditions. Antiques 4:768-773.

Greer, Georgeanna and Harding Black 1971 The Meyer Family: Master Potters of Texas. Trinity University Press, San Antonio.

Gums, Bonnie L, Eva Dodge Mounce, and Floyd R. Mansberger 1997 The Kirkpatricks' Potteries in Illinois: A Family Tradition. Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program 3.

Humphreys, Sherry B. and Johnell L. Schmidt 1976 Texas Pottery: Caddo Indian to Contemporary. Star of the Republic Museum, Washington, Texas.

Logan, William N. 1909 The Pottery Clays of Mississippi. Mississippi State Geological Survey Bulletin 6.

Lowe, E.N. 1915 Mississippi: Its Geology, Geography, Soils, and Mineral Resources. Mississippi State Geological Survey Bulletin 12.

Mansberger, Floyd R. 1990 The Potteries of Peoria, Illinois. Foundation for Historical Research of Illinois Potteries Circular Series II:2

1997 Early Industrialized Pottery Production in Illinois: Archaeological Investigations at White and Company's Goose Lake Stoneware Manufactory and Tile Works, Rural Grundy County, Illinois. Illinois State Museum Reports of Investigations 53.

Mansberger, Floyd R. and Eva Dodge Mounce 1993 The Potteries of McDonough County. Foundation for Historical Research of Illinois Potteries Circular Series III.

Mounce, Eva Dodge 1988 The Potteries of White Hall. Foundation for Historical Research of Illinois Potteries Circular Series I:2.

Siebenthal, C. E 1894 Geology of Dallas County. In Annual Report of the Geologic Survey of Arkansas, Vol. II.

Smith, Samuel D. 1972 Arkansas Kiln Sites. Arkansas Archeological Society Fieldnotes 95:7-10.

Smith, Samuel D. and Stephen Rogers 1979 A Survey of Historic Pottery Making in Tennessee. Tennessee Department of Conservation Division of Archaeology Research Series No. 3. Nashville, Tennessee.

Sweezy, Nancy 1984 Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition. Smithsonian Institution Press.

Texas Farm and Ranch Publishing Company 1923 Holland's Cook Book. Dallas.

Vestal, Franklin Earl 1947 Itawamba County Mineral Resources. Mississippi State Geological Survey Bulletin 64.

Wallthall, John A., Bonnie L. Gums, and George R. Holley 1991 The Traditional Potter in Nineteenth-Century Illinois: Archaeological Investigations at Two Kiln Sites in Upper Alton. Illinois State Museum Report of Investigations 46.

Watkins, Beverly 1982 The Bird, Welch, and Culberson Potteries: Local Industries in Nineteenth Century Dallas County, Arkansas. Arkansas Endowment for the Humanities Mini-grant 248-062-82M.

Willett, E. Henry and Joey Brackner 1983 The Traditional Pottery of Alabama. Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama.

Winburn, Hardy 1938 Seventy Years of Saline County Pottery. Niloak Pottery Co., Benton, Arkansas.

Zug, Charles G. 1986 Turners and Burners: The Folk Pottery of North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press.



• Home • Up • About Starr • Papers • Resources •

• MS Potters • AR Potters •

•  •


• Home • About M.E.Starr • Vita • Services • Campfire Tales • Papers • Mississippian • Walls Lithics • CMV Architecture • CMV Ceramics • Phillips Co • Smithsonian • Historic • Gulf Ordance • Mish • Chancey • Stoneware • AR Potters • MS Potters • Ft. Desha • Historic Lithics • Historic Ceramics • Resources • Glossary • Reading List • Journal Abstracts • Delta Counties • Environment • Physical • Biological • Neolithic • Farming • Tourism • Links •


Contact: Mary Evelyn Starr
  Box 39, Sledge MS 38670
  Phone (662) 444-5254

E-mail me at 

Keep up with me on the web and your social network
http://360.yahoo.com/mestarr (Starr's Science and History Blog)
http://blog.myspace.com//maryestarr (weather, crops, garden, family, books, bands)
http://deltaarchaeologyannex.blogspot.com (google technorati blog)
mary e starr at:
www.hi5.com     www.facebook.com     www.everyonesconnected.com     www.multiply.com


Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion. There is a kind of poetry in simple fact.
The world is older and bigger than we are. This is a hard truth for some people to swallow.
Edward Abby Vox Clamantis in Deserto 1989


Got questions or comments about this web site?
Please send mail to
Hosted by: Tech-IT-Out

Copyright 2003 - 2012 Delta Archaeology
Last modified: 11 March 2012