West of the Blue Ridge Series: Pottery

The music for this installment is “Wondrous Love.”

This installment is adapted primarily from “Pottery” by H.E. Comstock in the “Valley Pioneers and Those Who Continue” exhibit catalogue. Most scholarship on Valley pottery stems from Comstock’s work, which can be found in the “Encyclopedia of American Folk Art” edited by Gerard C. Wertkin, as well as “The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region.”

Kurtz Cultural Center Exhibits
Part of the pottery display from the “Valley Collectors” exhibit.

Potters began migrating to the Shenandoah Valley as early as the 1760s. The constantly increasing population of an agrarian society and their subsequent need for food preservation made pottery production a prime industry. The abundance of native clays, clear and workable in their natural state, facilitated the growth of the industry. Between the years of 1760 and 1900, more than two hundred potters were associated with Valley pottery production.

With few exceptions, two types of pottery were produced in the Shenandoah Valley: earthenware and stoneware. Earthenware, which can be distinguished by its maroon-brown color and brittle nature from its low firing temperatures, was abundantly produced in the earlier years. Earthenware is naturally porous, so pieces were glazed with lead oxide to provide waterproofing. The lead glazes typically produced colors of green and brown through the addition of copper, manganese, and iron. Nearly every type of pottery that was made in the Valley was produced in earthenware at some point.

Kurtz Cultural Center Exhibits
Possible Andrew Pitman work on display at the Kurtz.

Stoneware, a harder and denser pottery with a greyish pebbled surface, was produced throughout the Valley, especially after 1840. Stoneware is nonporous and more resistant to breakage due to the clay being fired at higher temperatures, leading to stone-like qualities. The salt glaze commonly found on stoneware was produced by throwing table salt into the very hot kiln. Salt glaze can range from clear through brown, blue, or even purple, resulting in a finish similar to an orange peel. For the most part stoneware exists as crocks, jugs, pitchers, canning jars, pans, bottles, cuspidors, and chambers.

John George Weis is considered one of the first and most influential potters to settle in the Shenandoah Valley. Much like firearms of the frontier developing artisans of renown and schools of production, Weis is considered the founder of the “Hagerstown School” of pottery. More history and background information on other early potters in the Valley can be found at Shenandoah Pottery, but two families in particular were the focus of the artifacts on exhibit at the Kurtz Cultural Center.

By the end of the eighteenth century at least three potters worked in Newtown (Stephens City) making utilitarian redware or earthenware, mostly for the local market. It is believed Anthony Pitman knew Weis or was exposed to his pottery techniques in Germany and subsequently brought the Hagerstown school of pottery to Newtown (Life of a Potter, Andrew Pitman, p. 16). Andrew and John Pitman, Anthony’s sons, are believed to have learned their trade from their father.

The earliest known reference to Pitman’s trade is a record of his purchase of ‘red lead’ (used for pottery glazes) from Winchester drug store owner, John Miller, in 1805.” Although he is known to have been an important and prolific potter for the area, little written documentary records remain, and it appears his work never traveled far beyond Winchester and Newtown. Fortunately, the Andrew Pitman house at 5415 Main Street in Stephens City was the subject of an in-depth archeological investigation, and more information on the artifacts of the pottery trade found there and the context surrounding the site can be found through the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

“The commonest cups and saucers sold then for one dollar per set, and a great many persons used the earthen ware porringers and mugs manufactured at Newtown.” — William Greenway Russell

The Bell family of potters, known not only locally but nationwide, are more responsible for the renown of the Valley’s pottery tradition than any other group. This family started its pottery production in the late 1700s with the work of Peter Bell in Hagerstown, Maryland. Bell’s three sons, John, Samuel, and Solomon, worked in Hagerstown, Winchester, and Strasburg, as well as locations in Pennsylvania.

John Bell (1800-1880) worked with his father, Peter, until 1824, when Peter moved to Winchester. John rented his father’s old shop in Hagerstown for himself for a year, then he moved to Winchester and worked with his father for three years. Thereafter, he moved to Chambersburg, Pa., where potter Jacob Heart provided him experience with English ceramic-molding techniques. He was one of the first American potters to use tin in his glazes, drawing from the pottery of Delft, Holland. The outstanding quality of his work rates him at the very top of American potters of this period, owing to his combination of German and English techniques to form a uniquely Valley form. John Bell may be the most widely known of the Bell family potters, especially for his ornamental pottery like the whimsical lion in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Samuel Bell (1811-1890) learned his craft from his father in Winchester. He moved to Strasburg in 1842, and around 1845, he acquired the old Miller Pottery from his father-in-law. Stylistically, his work is similar to his father’s, along with adapting the techniques and forms used by his brother John. His clientele and his production methods compelled him to produce mostly utilitarian ware, yet his accomplishments as a potter were excellent, particularly in his brushwork. Marked pottery from Samuel’s Winchester era is considered some of the finest and most sought-after pieces of Shenandoah Valley pottery.

Solomon Bell (1817-1882) also learned his craft in Winchester with his father and brother Samuel. He occasionally worked with his brother John in Chambersburg before joining his brother Samuel in Strasburg around 1844 in their family pottery business. He was responsible for the first molded ware produced in Strasburg and produced colored pieces that were distinctive enough to inspire the moniker “Strasburg Glaze.” His version of the figural lion, a repeated form for the Bell family, is believed to be the first produced and is speculated by Comstock to have drawn upon the signage for the Red Lion Tavern in Winchester, located a few blocks from the Winchester Bell Pottery location.

Kurtz Cultural Center Exhibits
The introductory panel to the Valley Collectors exhibit brought together a number of pottery pieces, including some of the molded pieces produced by the Bell family, from Gene Comstock’s collection. A rooster and perched bird were part of this display.

Pottery was always a necessary household commodity, and production remained strong until the Civil War. Although interrupted for a time by the conflict, production resumed again during the Reconstruction era and beyond. This period of pottery was dominated by the Bell family. The dynasty continued production as late as the 1930s through descendants of Samuel Bell. The Strasburg glaze formulas were recorded in a small black book, carefully guarded by the family to preserve the family glaze formulas. Gene Comstock related in a 1995 interview that the recipe book was still carefully guarded as late as 1976 even for direct Bell family descendants seeking the information for historical research.

Join us next time on February 18 to explore metalworking in the Valley!

Friday Photos: Kurtz Cultural Center

Kurtz Cultural Center
A collage of quilt exhibit images from the Kurtz Cultural Center.

It’s been a while, but during preparation for our second half of the West of the Blue Ridge posts for 2022 this week, we pulled out some of the Kurtz Cultural Center scrapbooks to look for more information we could add to the posts. In addition to some interesting interview tidbits, we also found 22 photos. They appear to be new additions for our digital holdings and were subsequently scanned and added to our online collection for the Kurtz Cultural Center.

One set of images appears to be from the decoration setup and opening reception of the Julian Wood Glass gallery and exhibit that was hosted on the third floor of the Kurtz, as well as an initial reception at the kick off of the Kurtz rehabilitation. A few scattered images came from the quilt and woodworking exhibits, and one appears to be from the West of the Blue Ridge exhibit itself. All the images have marks indicating they had been tacked up on a board at some point, most likely explaining how they slipped out of their exhibit or event files. No captions have been added to these photos yet, but if you recognize some faces, feel free to drop us a comment or email to help us identify the revelers.

Catch the new additions at the top of PHW’s photostream on Flickr.

Friday Roundup: Snow Day!

It’s our first appreciable snowfall of the year, so PHW is operating from home today. Monday may also be suspect due to the forecast of more snow and freezing rain. While we work from home, you can still reach us at our email phwinc.org@gmail.com and we can answer most questions. Anything that needs further exploration will be answered when we get back to the office, weather permitting.

To hold you over on this winter weather weekend, we have a few items to share. From the Handley Regional Library, you’re invited to Family History Hunters, a group for those interested in discovering their family history. Whether you have years of experience or are just beginning your journey, this is the place to learn tips and strategies, find new resources, and share successes. The first meeting will be virtual on January 13, 12:30 PM and all are welcome! Future meetings will be February 10 (special beginner’s session), March 10, April 14, May 12,
and June 9. Join one session or all!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a number of grant deadlines and events coming up – see if any of these can benefit your organization or preservation project:

Last, for a bit of interesting side reading, you may want to check out “How to design a house to last 1000 yearspart I, part II, and part III by Brian Potter. When considering the houses and buildings here that made it past the century mark, we see many of the same confluences of luck against fire, lack of natural disasters, durable building materials, and stable neighborhood uses or ability of a building to be repurposed to changing uses. The third part might be of the most interest to see how this person designed a building that might last 1000 years. What do you think of the final design choices?

First Snow of 2022
First snow at the Hexagon House, January 2022. Photo by Rick Alvarez.

Friday Roundup: New Year’s Eve Edition

Thank you all for joining PHW on this year’s adventure. We persevered through another round of the pandemic, managing to safely host in-person events for both our Annual Meeting and the Holiday House Tour and Bough & Dough Shop. While the Shop itself is finished until next November, a few PHW products can be ordered at any time through our online store. Of course, we continued our educational mission about architecture and local history through our image captioning project on social media, assisting homeowners in research questions, and coming out to events and speaking to other similar historically-minded organizations about preservation and history topics.

In preservation news, we have had two projects of note for the second half of 2021. In addition to the usual Revolving Fund house oversight, we have been delighted to put some of the salvage material in PHW’s holdings back into 609 S. Cameron Street (and a few other local preservation projects.) Our salvage holdings are a bit of a secret service. We are in no way set up to compete with Maggie’s Farm, but we have taken in some select local building parts over the years and are always willing to see if our holdings might have something you need for a project. We currently have an abundance of window sashes in various states of repair, doors, and a few mantels and light fixtures. We’re happy to do some basement spelunking with you to look over the items, but it’s up to you to get them back out of the basement and to your work site. Prices are flexible and go to supporting PHW’s operations (like this!).

We are also delighted to have partnered with the Godfrey Miller Home and Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church to support the maintenance needed for this special building. You may have gotten to peek in at the freshly-spruced up interior earlier this month during an open house event. They are still collecting donations to help with their expected expenses, the forms for which can be found here on our website. We’d like to see our members meet our donation of $10,000 and get the Home well on its way to a clean and safe exterior!

This year, we have also been collecting targeted donations for the Sherry Bosley scholarship fund, with which we hope to establish a scholarship for local students entering the historic preservation field, as well as donations made in memory of Dr. James Laidlaw. While we don’t have concrete plans yet for the Laidlaw donations, we hope to use the funds for something in partnership with the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, another organization the Laidlaws have supported over the years. If you’d like to make a last minute donation for your 2021 season, you can utilize PayPal to make a payment by debit or credit card (no PayPal account needed). If you’d like the donation to go toward one of our targeted funds, just write us a little note in the PayPal form and we’ll take care of it. You can also use this form to renew your PHW membership one time – just write the note that it’s your membership dues so we can record that accurately, as well.

We know there’s still a lot more work to do in 2022, and we probably don’t know of every preservation project or need that exists. That is why we are a membership-driven organization – it takes our members to help keep the board and staff informed and let us know if there are ways for us to help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us at phwinc.org@gmail.com or 540-667-3577 and let us know what’s going on.

Stay safe, celebrate responsibly, and we’ll see you in 2022!

Old Town Spring
Happy New Year!

Friday Roundup: Christmas Eve Edition

Handley Library, Holidays 2021
Thanks to Bob Snyder for sending us this great postcard illustration of the Handley Library ready to celebrate the holidays!

Recently, we watched two animated movies that align with PHW’s history and past lecture series. If you’re looking for a movie suitable to watch with older teens to receive inspiration on preservation (and a little side history on Japan’s involvement in the Korean War), check out From Up on Poppy Hill. This story, involving students banding together to clean up and save an important school building, is set in 1963, about the same time we were feeling the same sentiments here in Winchester to preserve our historic buildings for future generations.

Although we don’t want to spoil everything about The Wind Rises, this more mature film set in 1918-1945 Japan prompted some discussion afterward on “was that really how that happened?” And indeed, some of the scenes are accurate to the contemporary writings on tuberculosis treatment and prevention that we reviewed as part of our “A House without a Porch Is Boring” lecture.

If you’re not interested in watching movies during your holidays, you might might enjoy Christmas in 19th Century America by Penne Restad at History Today. It was a fun read, based heavily in how the 19th century changed Christmas in America from how our ancestors would have known and celebrated the holiday to what we experience today.

605 S. Cameron St.
605 S. Cameron St., Dec. 2021

Last, we have two images to share of work taking place on Cameron Street. One is 605 S. Cameron Street, one of the PHW Revolving Fund houses that was involved in a fire. Work is progressing on the building, which has so far included removing the rear addition, roof, and other damaged portions in the main block. PHW was happy to provide some window sashes salvaged from another local building outside the historic district that will be reused in this building, and we may be providing a door in the future. The decorative trim, which has also been removed, is salvageable and will be reinstalled.

Centenary Reformed United Church of Christ
202 S. Cameron St., Dec. 2021

Next, we spotted some of the stained glass window work taking place at Centenary Reformed United Church of Christ on the corner of Cork and Cameron streets. We are super excited to see the beautiful stained glass windows uncovered from the safety glass that has obscured them for decades. While storm windows like this are often a key part in preserving historic stained glass windows, some of these older iterations have aged badly and hidden the very architectural features they intended to preserve. We hope the work will finally let this church’s beauty be seen from the street.

Last, we have been informed another Revolving Fund house, known well to many of you as the Simon Lauck house at 311 South Loudoun, was involved in an accidental fire this week. Due to rapid response by local EMS teams, the building was saved, but repairs will be ongoing. We are sure the building will be in good hands, as we were already working with the owner to find someone capable of handling other repairs to the log structure. We’ll be keeping you updated here as we learn more, as we know this building is very dear to many people.

Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

West of the Blue Ridge Series: Firearms of the Frontier

The music for this installment is “Free America.”

Adapted from “Longrifles” by Timothy A. Hodges from the “Valley Pioneer Artists and Those Who Continue” exhibit catalogue and the “West of the Blue Ridge” text panels.

James Wood Exhibit - tent
A reenactor discusses his uniform and firearm typical of the early days of the town with guests during “James Wood and the Founding of Winchester.”

Life on the frontier spurred on the innovation and advancements necessary to create an accurate, economic, and efficient weapon different from those habitually used by the immigrants. German settlers brought a short, heavy rifle that had deep rifling grooves and a large bore. Though accurate, this “Jaeger” rifle was slow and difficult to load and required large amounts of scarce lead and gunpowder. The English, Scotch-Irish, and French immigrants brought a long, graceful fowling piece. Though light in weight and quick to load, the absence of rifling in the barrel severely limited its accuracy and range. It could be loaded with shot or, like the smooth-bore military musket, with a single lead ball; both consumed large amounts of lead and gunpowder.

Frontiersmen needed a lightweight, accurate firearm which was quick and easy to load and consumed small amounts of gunpowder and lead. By combining the desirable qualities of the jaeger and fowler with new innovations, the gunsmiths satisfied these needs. Reducing the depth of rifling grooves and using a greased patch around the ball made loading quick and easy without compromising accuracy. Reducing the size of the bore saved lead and gunpowder. Lengthening the barrel increased its range and gave it a graceful appearance.

The term “Kentucky rifle” is used to describe the American rifle developed in the eighteenth century by gunsmiths working on the Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Carolina frontier. It served colonial settlers for protection, procuring food, and was used as a military weapon in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812.

By the 1750s, the American longrifle had evolved to the point where few mechanical improvements could be made. The number of gunsmiths increased greatly during the Revolutionary War. Gunsmiths took on extra apprentices and journeymen and allied tradesmen reverted to gunsmithing to meet the demand. After the Revolution, however, the demand decreased. A more effective rifle could not be made, and so smiths turned their skills decorative enhancements.

The post-Revolutionary War period to the 1820s was the “Golden Age” of riflemaking. The gunsmiths focused attention on decorating their rifles in the American rococo style. Regional design characteristics became more prevalent during this period with identifiable schools and patterns of influence.

“[Winchester] is the place of general rendezvous of the Virginian troops, which is the reason of its late rapid increase , and present flourishing condition.” – Andrew Burnaby, 1775

213 S. Cameron
Adam Haymaker House, 213 South Cameron St.

Frederick County nurtured many gunsmiths because Winchester was the headquarters for militia activity during the French and Indian War. Winchester could boast of Adam Haymaker and Simon Lauck, two skilled craftsmen who trained apprentices who later worked in the Valley making fine guns. The “Winchester School” of rifle was carried west through Hampshire County and south through the Valley during the golden age of the Kentucky rifle.

Adam Haymaker is considered the “Father of the Winchester School” of rifles. He was working prior to the French and Indian War, and continued until his death in 1806. In addition to his son John, many other apprentices of Adam Haymaker helped spread his techniques and decorative details. His home and shop were located at 213 South Cameron Street.

The Simon Lauck House, 311 S. Loudoun
The Simon Lauck House, 311 South Loudoun St.

Simon Lauck left Winchester with Daniel Morgan’s Riflemen in 1775, at the age of fifteen. He returned to Winchester in 1794, after a time as a gunsmith in Lebanon Township, PA. The log house at 311 South Loudoun Street was probably his primary residence. His rifles are stylistically similar to Adam Haymaker’s, but it is uncertain what association they may have had. Through the many apprentices he trained, Lauck transmitted the decorative elements characteristic of his style, including the four-petal flower patchbox and silver inlay acorn motifs. His apprentices include his sons Simon Jr., John, Jacob, and William, as well as Jacob Funk of Strasburg.

By 1830, a rapidly expanding population, westward migration, and the beginning of the industrial era brought the golden age to an end. The demand for rifles could only be met by factories which had little concern for art.

Join us next time on January 21 to explore early pottery in the Shenandoah Valley!

Friday Roundup: Post House Tour Edition

Thank you to everyone who came out to the house tours last weekend. Early reports indicate about 300 guests came through the houses, and around 480 shoppers visited the Hexagon House over our run. The weather cooperated and we were able to enjoy two groups of Winchester Little Theatre costumed carolers, along with the delicious hot chocolate prepared by Phyllis Breidinger at the Hexagon House. Overall it was a great tour, and we only heard positives about the homes. Be sure to thank the homeowners and volunteers for opening their homes and giving their time during our 45th annual event next time you see them!

As is usual, a few items have ended up in a “lost and found” bin, which we will have at the Hexagon House. If there’s an item you think you may have dropped at the shop or during the tour, please give us an email at phwinc.org@gmail.com or call 540-667-3577 to see if it was turned in. We usually hold items until mid-January.

One of the found items definitely did not come from any tour goers or shoppers. A fragment of blue and white glazed pottery was uncovered at the Hexagon House. To our knowledge, this is the first bit of discarded pottery that has been unearthed here. The pattern appears to contain ivy leaves and a grouping of urns or vases. Thanks to the sharp-eyed shopper who spotted it and brought it to us!

As we are entering the holiday season, our projected schedule through the rest of the year will be:

Open Monday-Thursday, Dec. 13-16 (please visit before 3 PM as we have a number of meetings in the afternoon of this week)

Out of office all day Friday, Dec. 17; the next “West of the Blue Ridge” blog entry will be posted

Closed for winter holidays December 20-January 2

Because the holidays both fall on Fridays this year, we will likely only have abbreviated Friday blog posts for Dec. 24 and Dec. 31.

Normal office hours and daily photo captions return January 3, 2022.

45th Holiday House Tour Final Notes

Did you procrastinate on getting tickets? You are in luck! Tickets are available for purchase at the Hexagon House, 530 Amherst St. at the Bough & Dough Shop this weekend, as well as at Kimberly’s, Winchester Book Gallery, and Winchester-Frederick County Visitors Center. Tickets are also available for order online through EventBrite (until noon on Sunday). If you are still not sure, tickets can also be purchased at the door of any of the houses on Sunday for $25 (cash or checks only).

If you ordered tickets online via Eventbrite, remember to bring your PDF ticket (printed or on your phone) as you start your tour. If you’d like an official ticket, you should be able to pick them up at any of the houses on the tour or the Bough & Dough Shop.

The weather forecast for the weekend appears decent, with overcast skies and low chance of precipitation. Winds may be your only damper to waiting outside, so be sure to dress warmly if you have to wait in line or for walking between sites. Along with dressing for the weather, remember to bring your masks for interior tours. Stay safe while you are having fun!

We heard 25 West Piccadilly may be the hardest address to spot from the street, but if you are familiar with Winchester, it is the former Joe’s Steakhouse or Colonial Arts and Crafts building at the corner of Indian Alley and Piccadilly Street. You can also check the map of all the tour sites on your phone via Google Maps. All homes will have the Holiday House Tour yard signs out front as well to help you.

While you are touring the homes, remember no photography is allowed inside the private residences.

We have heard two homes may be providing small refreshments for tour-goers, and we will have our free hot drink station going at the Bough & Dough Shop while supplies last. Please remember to be courteous to homeowners and other tour-goers while enjoying your snacks!

Be on the lookout for the Winchester Little Theatre costumed carolers again this Sunday to enliven your tours. Be sure to thank the volunteers, as well!

We hope you enjoy the tours!

45th Holiday House Tour: Special Thanks

The Holiday House Tour is a huge undertaking every year, and it would not be possible without a number of volunteers, in-kind donors, and behind the scenes helpers making the magic happen. Below is a non-exhaustive list of helpers – say thank you to them for helping us make the tour and shop happen!

Advance ticket sale locations Kimberly’s, Winchester Book Gallery, and Winchester-Frederick County Visitors Center

Winchester Little Theatre costuming and carolers, organized by Dolly Vachon

Holiday House Tour chairmen Dan Whitacre, Bruce Downing, Anne Gillespie Scully, and Callie Fitzwater

Homeowners Scott and Barbara Bessette, Micheal and Lauren Peterson, and John and Jade Manuel

Volunteer docents, decorators, and door greeters for each house

Bough & Dough Shop volunteers Phyllis Briedinger, Frances Lowe, and Ricky Alvarez

Donors of bags, packing materials, and fresh greenery (thanks for helping us recycle AND keep costs down!)

And visitors like you!

PHW is grateful for the support of Angel’s Roost, one of our business card advertising sponsors of the Holiday House Tour.

45th Holiday House Tour: Digital Booklet and Map

While printed booklets should be available at the physical ticket sale locations now, if you would prefer a digital copy to have on your phone during the tour or ordered your tickets online, please feel free to save our digital version and refer back to it.

You may also want to keep the digital version of the tour map handy as well for navigating between the sites. The QR code for the map is also available on all the printed physical tickets if you are out and about during the tour and need some navigation help.

Maral Kalbian, Architectural Historian
PHW is grateful for the support of Maral Kalbian, one of our business card advertising sponsors of the Holiday House Tour.