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Strasburg once Central Valley center for pottery

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European Settlers began residing in the enchanting Northern Shenandoah Valley during the 1730s. Peter Stover migrated to the Shenandoah Valley in 1739 and eventually purchased 483 acres of land from Jacob Funk. Stover divided the land into smaller plots for sale to other settlers and a village was informally established. Stover then applied for a town charter from Virginia’s Colonial General Assembly in November 1761 giving the fledgling community the official name of Strasburg after Strasbourg, the capital of the German-speaking French province of Alsace. Some settlers originally called the area Staufferstadt, the German name for Stoverstown.

Unlike English society found east of the Blue Ridge, Strasburg was settled with family farms and villages rather than large estates and was greatly influenced by Germanic values, customs and languages. The prosperous agricultural community that developed in the bountiful low lying land along a large bend of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River featured scenic views of the Massanutten Ridge to the east and Allegheny Mountains to the west.

Strasburg would gradually boast a strong mercantile base that supported blacksmiths, doctors, carpenters, potters, coopers, weavers, hatters, shoemakers, tavern keepers, stonemasons, millers, tanners and potters. However it was for the pottery industry that Strasburg would increasingly be recognized. A Sabbatarian commune trekked to Strasburg from the Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania with a desire to reproduce rural folk art pottery. This Christian group of celibate men and women migrated to the Valley about 1757 and in 1761 established the first cottage industry pottery production.

Attached Photo courtesy Mark Gunderman. The Strasburg Museum, once operated as a Steam Pottery, also known then as the Strasburg Stone and Earthenware Manufacturing Company from 1891-1909.


In the early nineteenth century potters from other colonial locations were arriving and establishing small shops. Shops accepting apprenticeships were primarily limited to family members. The agrarian society had great needs for pottery products. Potteries were built for making utilitarian devices used in cooking meals and food storage. Rich Valley earthen and stoneware clay deposits were readily accessible and abundant which enticed potters to Strasburg to take advantage of owning a shop with a cheap clay source in close proximity. Earthenware was used for cooking and stoneware was suitable for storing liquids. Salt-glazed stoneware became very available during this time and potters made serviceable household products like cream pitchers, lard crocks, whiskey jugs and chamber pots.

Philip Grim was most likely Strasburg’s first commercial potter. Phillip began producing pottery in 1783 and continued here until 1811. Adam Keister began making pottery in Strasburg in 1805 and produced his first stoneware during the 1820s. His sons Adam Jr. and Henry continued the business from 1847 until after the Civil War. Samuel Bell moved to Strasburg from Winchester to make pottery in 1843 and his brother Solomon Bell joined him in 1845. Pottery continued to be a commercially viable industry prior to the Civil War, with local clay being used to make both utilitarian items and decorative pieces.

The ravages of the Civil War brought lean years to the Shenandoah Valley, thus diminishing the pottery industry. Many potteries severely cut production during the war years and financing to increase production after the war was difficult. Skilled Potters were abundant but salaries were below normal standards for the years 1865-1875. Competition was intense during this period and the phrase “poor as a potter” was widely used.

The most successful period for the Strasburg pottery trade came a decade after the war during what has been called the “Golden Age” of Valley pottery production (1875-1895). This Golden Age was the result of voluminous stoneware production when many partnerships were formed and dissolved. The Potters were able to transport their stoneware throughout the southeast and mid-Atlantic states via the Manassas Gap Railroad which connected Strasburg to Manassas Junction and Alexandria and the new Winchester and Strasburg Railroad which connected Strasburg to Harpers Ferry, enabling a connection to northern destinations.

It was during the Golden Age that a number of small potteries were distinguished here and Strasburg became a potter’s paradise earning its signature nickname of Pot Town. Pot Town became the Central Valley headquarters for the production of both utilitarian and fancy earthenware and stoneware pottery. Commonly produced stoneware forms of the late nineteenth century include jars, crocks, jugs, pitchers, butter and cake crocks, milk pans (shallow, tapering crocks with spouts) and spittoons.

Samuel H. Sonner produced ware from 1870 to 1883. His son John Henry Sonner assumed the business and continued making stoneware and drain tile into the early 1900s. George W. Miller produced pottery from 1880-1901. James M. Hickerson managed his pottery in Strasburg, Virginia from 1884-1898. Jacob J. Eberly & Company opened in 1874. Eberly acquired Keister Pottery in 1880. Eberly’s brother Joseph and son Letcher joined him later, producing stoneware and fancy ware until the early 1900s. Letcher is recognized for creating the poly-chrome glaze used in earthenware products in Strasburg. Samuel and Solomon Bell’s business continued to grow producing various saleable items with Samuel Bell’s potter sons, Richard Franklin “Polk” Bell, Charles Forrest Bell, and Turner Ashby Bell. Ashby became the last surviving potter working, by producing lavishly decorated commercial products in Strasburg as late as 1915.

Around 1890 the two story structure that now houses the Strasburg Museum was built by the Strasburg Stone and Earthenware Manufacturing Company as a factory intended to place the Shenandoah Valley’s long tradition of pottery making on a high-volume industrial basis. The factory idea was conceived by Dr. G. A. Brown and a group of investors from Lynchburg and Strasburg.

The plan was to make Strasburg an important manufacturing center elevating the city’s status to the level of more modern Trenton, New Jersey and Zanesville, Ohio. The company began operating the large steam pottery plant on the site beginning in February 1891. The project coincided with the brief economic boom experienced during the city’s Golden Age.

Many of the Strasburg area independent potters became employees of the company and local laborers sought permanent employment at 50 cents a day. Unfortunately the organization did not have the necessary experience for operating in a large factory environment. There were many delays getting the operations component running smoothly as management had difficulty with the various technological phases and challenges of the new industrial era.

By 1894, large amounts of inventory remained unsold. In 1895 and 1896, the factory mostly produced brick and tile. The company officers recognized glass jars and tin cans were rapidly replacing pottery for food storage. Efforts to diversify the product line with additional items like flower pots and brightly-glazed tableware were not enough to sustain the steam pottery plant. The short-lived venture (1891-1897) into specialized industrial and technological advancement represents an unsuccessful attempt to convert a small production industry into one of innovative mass production. Between 1898 and 1900 the company wholesaled all of their machinery and pottery related equipment.

Strasburg pottery production went into decline because of competition from large, well-managed Ohio-based factories, the transition of food storage from ceramic vessels to the use of lighter-weight glass jars and new canning devices. The gradual mass production of glass jars and tin cans as more efficient types of containers ultimately led to the rapid end of salt-glazed stoneware and the pottery industry. By 1910, virtually all remaining commercially productive potters in the Valley area sought out new means of employment.

Strasburg stoneware is admired today for its folk art charm and Southern legacy. It is believed that no other community of similar size is as well-known as Strasburg among nationwide pottery collectors.

Mark P. Gunderman
Stephens City, Virginia

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National Safe Boating Week: Engine cut-off switches now required

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A new law aims at preventing severe injuries and death from runaway vessels on recreational waterways.

Every year, the Coat Guard responds to cases where boat operators are thrown from boats, but the engines keep running. Operators and passengers end up in the water while the boat continues its course, or starts to move in a circle. In the water, people can be mowed down by the boat or suffer serious propeller injuries. Runaway boats pose a serious danger to other boaters and first responders.

The U.S. Coast Guard announced in March that all recreational vessels less than 26 feet in length will be required to use an engine cut-off switch.

An engine cut-off switch is a device that cuts the engine if the operator moves from the helm or the outboard — typically a lanyard clipped around the operator connects to the switch, which turns the engine off when tension is put on the lanyard.


Some wireless devices are also now available.

Not all small boating activities will be required to have the switches. Low-speed activities, such as fishing or docking, don’t require the use of a cut-off switch. But every boat under 26 feet long with an engine of three horsepower or more should have a cut-off switch. The switch doesn’t have to be used when fishing, docking or trailering.

Coast Guard rules apply only to federally navigable waterways. However, seven states have their own cut-off switch laws. The states are Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Texas. According to Boat US, most states will adjust their regulations to match federal law in coming years.

The consequence for violating this law is a $100 civil penalty for the first offense.

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How to talk to your kids about the police

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The purpose of National Police Week, which takes place from May 9 to 15, is to commemorate the service of police officers, especially those who died in the line of duty. Given the media coverage around police brutality, however, you might be wondering how to talk to your children about law enforcement. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Start with self-reflection
The way you approach a conversation about policing with your kids will depend on your own feelings and experiences. Take time to assess where you’re coming from before you sit down with your children.

2. Find out what they already know
Ask your children what the word “police” means to them and what they think a police officer’s job is. Their answers can help guide your discussion, as they’ll let you know what ideas or misunderstandings your kids have about law enforcement.

3. Acknowledge their feelings
Remember that simply listening to your children is an important part of any conversation with them. If your kids express feelings of anger, fear, or confusion when talking about the police, be sure to validate their emotions before trying to ease their concerns.


4. Be honest and offer reassurance
While you shouldn’t avoid acknowledging that some police officers behave badly, let your children know that most work hard to do the right thing and that lots of people are pushing for change to make sure the police treat everyone fairly.

In honor of National Police Week, take the time as a family to thank the police officers in your community for their continued service. This will give your children an opportunity to get to know some men and women behind the uniform.

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Pregnancy and maternity quiz: test your knowledge

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This Mother’s Day, test your knowledge about pregnancy and motherhood with this quick and easy quiz.

True or false

1. A baby’s sex is determined as soon the egg is fertilized.
2. Smoking increases the risk of having a miscarriage.
3. The chance of having identical twins is greater if there are already twins in the family.
4. The fetus’s heartbeats at the same rate as the mother’s.
5. Breastfeeding helps prevent breast cancer.

Multiple choice


6. Which of these sports should be avoided during pregnancy?

a) Horseback riding and scuba diving
b) Judo and mountaineering
c) Tennis and hot yoga
d) All the above

7. What hormone causes the uterus to contract during childbirth?

a) Estrogen
b) Progesterone
c) Oxytocin
d) Chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

8. At how many weeks is a baby considered full term?
a) 33
b) 35
c) 37
d) 39

Fill in the blank

9. It’s recommended that pregnant women and women who are trying to conceive take __________ as a supplement to prevent deformities such as spina bifida.
10. __________ is the medical term for a woman in labor.
11. The __________ allows air and food to be exchanged between the mother and fetus.
12. The __________ connects the mother to the child during pregnancy.

How did you do?

Answers:
1. True
2. True
3. False (this is only true for fraternal twins)
4. False (it beats about twice as fast)
5. True
6. d)
7. c)
8. c)
9. Folic acid
10. Parturient
11. Placenta
12. Umbilical cord

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Need inspires solutions: The invention and re-invention of the odometer

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Whether plotting a road trip or training for a triathlon, we need our odometers. But did you ever wonder how they were invented?

The odometer was actually invented and reinvented a number of times. From ancient Greeks to a Mormon pioneer, our mileage-tracking device has received quite a bit of attention.

The National Parks Service credits a Roman architect and engineer named Vitruvius with the first design. Vitruvius built a contraption that looked a bit like a wheelbarrow, which automatically dropped a pebble into a container at each revolution of the wheel, measuring the distance traveled.

Two other iterations showed up in the coming centuries, plus a third designed for ships. Then Benjamin Franklin created a version in 1775 to track his mileage as postmaster between Philadelphia and Boston. It is unclear whether Franklin then asked for mileage reimbursement.


William Clayton is credited with creating a detailed guide for Mormon travelers crossing the plains from Winter Quarters, Neb. to Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition to noting camping locations, terrain, and the availability of water, grass, and timber, Clayton recorded the mileage thanks to the “roadometer” he invented.

In a prime example of need inspiring invention, Clayton created the device in 1847 after realizing early on that he needed a more accurate way to measure the distance. He measured the left rear wheel of one of the wagons to determine its circumference and calculate how many rotations equaled a mile.

Clayton then tied a marker on the spoke and walked beside it, counting the rotations —what must have been a painstaking process, as he notched 4,070 rotations for 11 and quarter miles plus 20 revolutions the first day.

The first roadometer could count to 100 and be quickly replaced by another that could count to 1,000, making the job much more efficient.

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How to support nurses on the front line of the pandemic

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May is Nurses Month, an annual event that sets out to honor the contributions of America’s nurses. These essential workers are invaluable members of their communities, offering help to patients and their families, and playing a key role in delivering healthcare services. That’s why this year’s theme is Nurses Make a Difference.

In light of the pandemic, supporting nurses is more important than ever. Over the last year, these workers have risked their own safety to help those who need care. Here are some ways you can offer your encouragement.

1. Give them a shoutout
Publicly give your thanks to nurses on social media using the hashtag #Support-HealthcareHeroes. Recognition can go a long way in making the nurses you know feel valued.

2. Offer them a meal
Order takeout for the nurses you know, and see if you can have it delivered to the hospital or clinic where they work.


3. Help with childcare
If you know a nurse who has children, consider offering to lend a hand while they’re at work or when they need a break.

4. Drop off groceries
It can be hard for nurses to find time to pick up the essentials. Reach out to a nurse you know, and see if you can help by bringing them the supplies they need.

5. Make a donation
There are numerous campaigns dedicated to raising funds for nurses. Consider making a donation to the American Nurses Foundation, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses or a local nursing school.

Nurses working on the front line of the pandemic deserve to be reminded that they’re valued. This year for Nurses Month, consider reaching out and showing your appreciation.

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3 special ways to celebrate Mother’s Day

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Do you want to pull out all the stops for Mother’s Day this year? Whether your mom lives nearby or far away, here are a few ways to celebrate the occasion.

Theme party
Host an event your mom will never forget by choosing a theme. You could make the celebration a beach party, a Victorian ball, a Mexican fiesta, a casino night soirée, or a Great Gatsby-style bash. Consider your mom’s tastes and get creative. Think about the decorations, costumes, music, and other details so everyone can truly immerse themselves in the chosen universe.

Fun activity
Celebrate your mom by doing something together that you know she enjoys. It could be a walk in the forest, a visit to a museum, a day at the spa, a hot air balloon ride, or a wine tasting at a local vineyard. If Mom preferred to stay home, consider playing board games or having a movie marathon with all of her favorite snacks. Give her a unique experience, and she’s sure to be pleased by your thoughtfulness.

Video call
If you can’t get together with your mom in person, organize a video call that shows her how much you care. You could read her a letter or poem you wrote for the occasion, share a festive meal together despite the distance or play an assortment of games to brighten up her day.



So, what kind of celebration will you put together for Mother’s Day?

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