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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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4 facts you may not know about bullying

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Contrary to what some people think, bullying isn’t a normal part of childhood. Here are some other realities about this harmful behavior that need to be acknowledged.

1. Kids don’t grow out of bullying
Unless children face meaningful consequences and learn that bullying is unacceptable, this behavior is likely to persist through adolescence and into adulthood. It can also evolve into dating violence, workplace harassment, and domestic abuse.

2. Fighting back makes bullying worse

While children should be encouraged to stand up to bullies, retaliating with violence, insults or other aggressive behavior can lead to more persistent and severe bullying. Assertive responses and reporting bullying to an adult are more effective strategies.

3. Peers can stop bullying in seconds
Most bullying incidents happen when peers are watching, and their reaction plays a major role in reinforcing or stopping the behavior. In fact, research shows that when peers intervene, more than half of the time the bullying stops within 10 seconds.

4. Bullying can cause serious harm
Bullied children are more likely to experience headaches, stomach aches, anxiety, and depression. They’re also at greater risk of long-term mental health problems and suicide. Additionally, children who bully are more likely to use drugs and engage in criminal activity.

It’s only by dispelling myths about bullying and teaching children to develop healthy relationships that the issue can be properly addressed and bullying eradicated for good.

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3 extraordinary marriage proposals to inspire you

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Have you decided to ask your partner to marry you? If you’re wondering how to make sure the moment is perfect, here are three incredible stories of how people popped the question. (Spoiler alert: they all said yes!)

1. Filmmaker Lee Loechler took his high school sweetheart, Sthuthi David, to a special screening of Sleeping Beauty in the Boston area. Toward the end of the film, as the prince approached the sleeping princess, the animation changed to feature characters who resembled Lee and Sthuthi. After waking her with a kiss and holding out a ring, the cartoon prince Lee tossed the ring box off-screen for his real-life self to catch. Lee got down on one knee and, in front of friends and family members who’d been sitting at the back of the theater, he asked Sthuthi to marry him.

2. Politician Tim Wilson delivered a speech on the floor of the Australian parliament in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill had passed the senate the previous week and was being debated in the lower house. As the member of the parliament concluded his speech, he turned his attention to the public gallery where his long-time fiancé, Ryan Patrick Bolger, was sitting. The couple had been engaged for nearly a decade but were unable to make it official. Tim looked up at Ryan and proposed once again. The bill passed and, three months later, the couple married.

3. Inspired by videos of flash mobs she’d seen online, Isabelle Marin put together an elaborate performance for her partner, Jean-François Dumais, at a shopping mall in the Quebec City region. A violinist serenaded him in the food court and a dance troupe performed in the atrium. Friends and family members emerged from the gathering crowd to hand Jean-François roses. Then, as a local singer (and friend) Mélissa Bédard belted out a ballad, Isabelle made her entrance on an escalator and got down on one knee.

If there’s one thing to take away from these stories, it’s that you can be as creative and theatrical as you want during a proposal — the important thing is to give it your personal touch.

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6 ways to protest against racial injustice

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As the leader of the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. organized a number of peaceful protests throughout the 1950s and 60s to end racial discrimination and segregation in the United States. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which falls on January 18 this year, here are six ways to protest against the ongoing racial injustice in this country.

1. Educate yourself using the abundance of books, articles, podcasts, and movies available on racism and racial justice, and learn how you can affect change.

2. Volunteer for a local organization that seeks to address issues in your community that disproportionately affect African Americans such as food insecurity and under-funded schools.

3. Sign petitions demanding racial justice, write to your local officials to advocate for policy changes, and start conversations about race with the people in your life.

4. Attend a demonstration calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. You can also join an aid group that provides supplies and assistance to protestors.

5. Donate money to bail funds and organizations led by people of color that are pushing for change. If you’re an artist, you can sell your work and donate the proceeds.

6. Support black-owned businesses to help shrink the racial wealth gap and foster job creation for people of color.

For more information about how you can fight against racial injustice in your community, reach out to local organizations.

Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest. — Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

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Martin Luther King, Jr.: Those who knew him grow old; the promise lives

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The people who heard Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in person, or live on the television or radio–those people have grown old.

Is time that those old people ask the young: Have you heard his speech? Have you read about Martin Luther King’s dream? Did you read his Mountaintop speech?

Any of King’s speeches evoke spirit and truth, but one speech shines out for its hopeful and, in retrospect, its chilling words.

That is the Mountaintop speech, given April 3, 1968, at the Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn.

In this speech, King mused that if given any time in history, he would have chosen that moment, that very day above all others. He spoke about the great and pivotal hour for the country and the world as all confronted injustice.

Then, he remembers his brush with death years before when he was stabbed and how close he came to missing that day.

And then he proclaims that he has seen the Promised Land:

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But
I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

The next day, on April 4, 1968, King was assassinated.

King’s words, later recalled, send a shiver through hearts and minds. Those words are worth recalling even 53 years later, that one was led by God to the mountaintop, and he saw the promised future of his people fulfilled.

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Ice fishing: tips for a successful day

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Ice fishing is a great way to relieve stress, reconnect with nature, and enjoy your own company or that of your fishing buddies. Whether you’re ready to go or still waiting for the ice to thicken, here are a few tips that will help guarantee you have a good experience.

Check the regulations
Before you head out, make sure you have the necessary permits and that you’re allowed to fish in the intended area. You also need to be familiar with the catch and possession limits for various species. Having this information will allow you to avoid unpleasant surprises and ensure that your activities are legal.

Check the conditions

Take into consideration the weather and ice conditions before you decide if you’ll be fishing in a shack or simply out on the ice. Mother Nature can be unpredictable, and without the right gear, you may have to turn back before you make your first catch.

Check your equipment
Many parks and lodges offer all-inclusive ice fishing packages. In this case, all you need to bring are your warm clothes and plenty of enthusiasm. However, if you have your own equipment, you’ll want to assess its condition before you head out. Visit hunting and fishing shops in your area if any of your gear is damaged or needs to be replaced.

Following these tips will ensure that once you drill your holes, you’ll be able to relax, unwind, and fully enjoy the ice fishing experience.

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How to safely watch wildlife in winter

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If you spend time exploring the outdoors this winter, you might cross paths with hares, foxes, deer, and other wildlife. Here’s how you can observe these creatures safely (and comfortably) without disturbing them.

Act appropriately
It’s important to always treat wildlife with caution and respect. If an animal reacts to your presence, you’re too close. Since these creatures need to conserve energy to stay warm in winter, startling them causes undue stress. In fact, keeping your distance is as much for their safety as it is for yours.

Dress appropriately

It’s best to wear layers and opt for breathable fabrics when you engage in outdoor winter activities. Keep in mind that you won’t produce as much body heat when you’re standing still to watch wildlife. You’ll also want to have binoculars or a camera to make the most of your sigh-ting. However, keep in mind that drones shouldn’t be used around wild animals.

If you want to reconnect with nature this season, look for places where you can hike, snowshoe, and cross-country ski in your area.

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