19th Century Pottery Production, continued

Types of Wares Produced

The crockery produced at the Pottery Works Site was typical of that in use during the middle nineteenth century. These wares were hand-turned stoneware (high-fired, vitrified bodies) with a salt-glazed exterior and brown-slipped interior. The majority of the wares produced at the Pottery Site consisted of utilitarian foodway containers with jars (crocks) and bowls accounting for over 80% of the production. Other, less significant items included churns, jar lids, pitchers, flower pots, spittoons, and chamber pots. Although very few of the items were decorated, an occasional sherd exhibited evidence of a small hand-painted application of cobalt blue.

Although the vast majority of these wares were produced with the aid of a potter’s wheel using traditional craft techniques, the potters at this site had begun to experiment with the production of molded wares. Molded bowls and small jars appear in very limited quantities at this site. Additionally, several varieties of molded jar lids with decorative rims (incorporating either a rose, grape leaf, or rope design) were produced at the site.

The Tile Works Site appears to have produced predominately stoneware drain and sewerage tile. This tile was produced by extruding raw clay through die of various diameters and cutting at various lengths. The majority of the tile averaged 8"in diameter with some as large as 14"in diameter. Unlike the hand-powered Pottery Works Site, the work conducted at the Tile Works Site required a substantial steam power engine and larger, unskilled work force.

Significance of the Site

During the nineteenth century, crockery containers (consisting predominately of ceramic bowls, jars, churns, and jugs) used for food preparation and storage were crucial to the operation of a home. During the initial years of the century, redware (a soft, porous, red-paste pottery) predominated. By the middle nineteenth century, better quality stonewares (hard-paste, non-porous, vitrified wares) were being produced in the state by several small farmer-potters.

During the middle-to-late-nineteenth century, the Midwestern ceramic industry was transformed from a family-operated craft to an industrialized-factory system of production. Early craft systems of production were characterized by the skilled farmer-potter who organized his work schedule around the agricultural seasons, shifting from farming and potting depending on the season. The first step towards the development of a factory system of production was the intensification of the craft and the devotion of the skilled craftsman to his trade on a more-or-less full-time basis, often adding numerous additional skilled craftsmen to his work force. Later efforts at industrialization included the mechanization of the craft, creating a division of labor incorporating many unskilled workmen and creating a reorganization of the workshop as well as the labor force.

Prior to the 1850s, there was very little commercial need for drainage tile in Illinois. The little drainage tile used around the house consisted of hand-coiled tile manufactured by the potter on a limited basis. By the 1850s, large urban centers such as Chicago began installing sanitary drainage systems, creating a demand for ceramic drain tile. Additionally, the agricultural expansion of farmers into the upland prairie of Illinois spurred an agricultural demand for drainage tile. It was at this same time that several industrialized workshops specializing in drain tile were established to meet the demand for such products in Illinois.

Begun in 1856, William White’s Gooselake Stoneware Manufactory was one of the first attempts, if not the first attempt, at large-scale stoneware production in Illinois. Similarly, as noted by the magazine Prairie Farmer, it probably was one of the first two tile factories in the state of Illinois. The archaeological investigations at this site have given us new insights into the structure of the sites, as well as the types of wares being produced.

The White’s pottery workshop was organized in a traditional manner, under the direction of a master-craftsman working with a number of skilled potters producing a hand-manufactured product. Although the incipient factory was organized around skilled labor (potters), a division of labor was established with a wide range of non-skilled workmen contributing to the labor pool. Evidence suggests that the workshop had begun to mechanize (with the introduction of molding equipment) prior to the final closure of the plant. In contrast, the tile workshop was more mechanized from the beginning, employing the use of a steam engine and mechanical dies, and required fewer skilled craftsmen to operate.

For additional information regarding William White and the pottery/tile workshop at Jugtown, the reader should refer to Floyd Mansberger’s "Early Industrialized Pottery Production in Illinois: Archaeological Investigations at White and Company’s Gooselake Stoneware Manufactory and Tile Works, Rural Grundy County, Illinois" (1997, Illinois State Museum Reports of Investigations, No. 53, Springfield).

Photos courtesy of Fever River Research.

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