Friday Roundup:Weekend Reading and Research Sagas

Winchester held a Comprehensive Plan open house and public hearing on Tuesday this week. If you were unable to attend in person but are curious about the public comments made, you can watch the meeting video at the Winchester meeting archive site. One refrain we heard over and over from the commenters was how Winchester’s history and charm is part of why people want to live here. Obviously, we’re absolutely thrilled by hearing those kinds of comments. PHW has been a strong believer in just those qualities being an attractant for visitors and residents alike.

Simultaneously, we heard a number of comments skeptical of New Urbanism. While we know anything that has a name and sounds officially engineered is going to be viewed with suspicion these days, in many ways this approach to planning is intended to go back to the proven, organic method of growing incrementally. If New Urbanism is a new concept for you, you can learn more at and the Congress of New Urbanism.

In the Preservation Leadership forum, several good website resources were shared recently. Because the forum is not available to nonmembers we wanted to pass the links on to our readers. From Fort Collins, CO, is a cost calculator spreadsheet for both residential and commercial construction. They are in Excel format and should be saved to your computer to allow for editing for your project comparisons.

Douglas Newby also shared links to his five steps for saving historic and architecturally significant homes. They are a bit of a longer read, so settle in when you have time for Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Four, and Part Five. This approach is almost exactly the process PHW was advised to take by the National Trust for Historic Preservation consultants, and subsequently how much of the residential areas surrounding Winchester’s Old Town Mall were stabilized.

Because we know it is always an area of interest, we were also notified that the founders of have spun off a second website just for gathering funding resources for grants, loans, rebates, tax incentives, and other opportunities for preservation and its related humanity fields. The search requires paid membership, and so PHW cannot vouch for the quality and range of sources available here (although the price seems relatively reasonable compared to other paid grant databases we have come across).

In addition to our usual social media image captioning project for our Flickr holdings, this week we did a bit of extra sleuthing to identify two photos in our collection. If you’ve ever wondered how we go about this, here are the approaches we used for these two images:

1632 Valley Ave.

The first building was partially identified as being located on Valley Avenue by a note on the rear. The notes have not always been accurate, as we learned in previous image sleuthing attempts, but it at least provided a starting point and seemed plausible. To check without leaving the office, we utilized Google’s Street View on maps and took a virtual drive from Jefferson Street heading south. The building would be nondescript except for the prominent white keystones with decorative inset panelss in the wall above, so those were the features we looked for first. Once we spotted a promising building on Google Street View, we pulled back and verified the side porch on the north side, as well as examining the adjoining property to the south. Once we were sure we had the right building, we took a little trip down the street to confirm the address and number of building between this one and the Benjamin Moore paint store. Armed with this info, we then went to the City’s Real Estate Assessment Search for a general Valley Avenue search and obtained the correct street address through counting back parcels to reach this one.

178 Hawthorne Dr.

The second image was a bit harder to identify, and required what we would term lateral searching and organizational memory. This photo did not have a location note on the rear, but was stamped as being taken by Allan Richardson and had crop notations indicating it was used for some kind of printed material. Knowing that Allan Richardson took photos for PHW in the later 1970s to early 1980s from our previous work in the image collection, we had a basic time frame to explore. Knowing the only reason it is likely PHW had a professional photo of a modern home was because of a tour or event, we started with the biggest event of our repertoire, the Holiday House Tour. Due to previous work done behind the scenes to document the locations and years of past House Tours, and from our knowledge of Winchester that this is not a building in the Historic District, we could scroll through the address list before finding a likely address to once again plug into Google Street View. In this case, it ended up being the first possible building we identified in the 1977 Holiday House Tour. Once again, we confirmed through examining the distinctive features of the house – the chimney placement, front entry, and windows primarily – and then compared the tiny magnolia in the original photo to the modern-day tree. This one was definitely a bit more of a puzzler, but we feel confident we correctly identified the building through these methods.

Friday Roundup: Marlboro Furnace Addition

While working on another research project this week, we came across an article referencing Marlboro Furnace and the production of firebacks, which was discussed in our “West of the Blue Ridge” series on metalworking. While we found it too late to reference in that post, we thought it would make a nice addendum and have reprinted the text here:


A “Fireback” Made in 1755—A Curio Worth Possessing.

Friday morning while in the shop at Reed and Nulton’s, on west Water street, a Times reporter spied an ordinary and rough-looking piece of old iron, which would have escaped the notice of many. His attention was drawn to it by seeing the name of an old German family among his ancestors, and naturally he investigated. The curio was a “fireback,” so common in the houses of colonial days and is one of a few relics of this character extant in this community.

These “firebacks” resemble the sides of a large “ten-plate” stove and were used in fire places by the old timers. Most of them in this section were made by the old Marlboro Furnace, in this county, with which the Zane family was connected. One is now in the possession of the Sarah Zane Fire Company, which was made for the Cartmell’s, ancestors of our worthy county clerk.

The “fireback” seen this morning was made in 1755 for the Huber family—now called Hoover, of which Mr. C. F. Hoover is one of the many representatives—and also represented by a family of Hubers in Stephens City. On the plate is some figured work either allegorical or characters the result of the ingenuty [sic] of the iron moulder [sic]. The name upon it is




Mr. Nulton also has the portion of another aged plate and there are several more in the community.

The writer of this article has one at his residence which is used in lieu of a stepping stone.

The Huber “fireback” was secured by Mr. Nulton from a party who once resided in the house on Braddock street now occupied by Mr. George Thatcher, and it is probably the oldest of its kind in the country.

In connection with this we append an article from Ironmonger and would further state that the “fireback” referred to was in his possession once and he claims it was loaned to a late resident of this city:

“As matter of historic interest I give herewith a representation of an anti-Revolutionary stove which is now in possession of Mr. Charles B. Hotchkiss, the New York manager of the Barstow Stove Company, who feels peculiar pride in possessing this old relic of his business.

“Discussion has been so warm, I have taken the trouble to obtain from the gentleman who formerly possessed this plate, some data as to its history. Under date of April 18th he writes from Winchester, Va., as follows:

‘The fireback referred to, with another like it, was bought from a stove dealer here, who was only willing to say that the owners who had placed it in his hands to sell, ‘stood on their dignity’ (in his words), and did not care to be known, being in reduced circumstances.

‘Marlboro Furnace, long cold, I have always understood was in this county, a few miles southeast from Winchester. A post office still bears the name. It could hardly be called a stove foundry, but cast some stoves I suppose, like other old charcoal furnaces in the valley. Probably no flasks were used, the metal being run into bedded molds in the sand, like pig iron, direct from the blast furnace. You can better judge of that than I. The iron is said to he tougher than what is commonly made now.

“Frederick county was erected in 1737 or ’38, and Winchester in 1752. Fort Loudoun, through which our main, or Loudoun street runs, was built in 1756, by Col. Geo Washington, who, two years later, at the age of 26, was elected by Frederick county, her delegate to the House of Burgesses. The embankment is still distinct, and the well, sunk 102 feet by Washington, still yields such pure and cold water as Croton Lake never sent to New York There is a square here bounded on one side by Washington street, so named at that time, and the first thing ever called after him.’

“So you see casting might very well have been done hereabouts in 1768 I have seen no others dated so old; but many stoves, a century or so old, are, I think, to be found in this quarter. You now have all I know in the premises.” —Winchester Times, Volume 34, Number 25, 8 March 1899

West of the Blue Ridge Series: Metalworking

The music for this installment is “I Got a Hurtin’ in My Right Side.”

Adapted from “Introduction to Metals” by Virginia L. Miller in the “Valley Pioneer Artists and Those Who Continue” exhibit catalogue.

"West of the Blue Ridge" Exhibit
Wedding stove plate (front and side) Marlboro Furnace, ca. 1768. Introduced by German immigrants, cast plate stoves frequently were decorated with proverbs, Biblical scenes, and floral decoration. This example celebrated domestic bliss.

Of the various tradesmen drawn to the Shenandoah Valley, the blacksmiths, tinsmiths, coppersmiths, and ironworkers were vital. Items encompassing daily needs to high-end luxury items were produced by these artisans. In many cases, the metalworkers collaborated closely with other craftsmen to create finished products like pie safes and clocks. By the late 1780s, the Lower Shenandoah Valley had approximately four silversmiths and one or two clockmakers. By 1830 this number had increased appreciably and metalworkers expanded into jewelry, a reflection of the growing affluence of the area.

1876 advertisement in the Winchester Times for the Nulton business on Main (Loudoun) Street.

Apparently the earliest workers to arrive were the tinsmiths and coppersmiths, who made household utensils, pots, and kettles to order. Tinsmiths do the majority of their work on cold metal through cutting, shaping, punching, and soldering pieces. Local smiths John Nulton, George Reed, and John Richardson all had copper teakettles exhibited during “Valley Pioneer Artists and Those Who Continue.” Other known smiths of the area are Joseph Harry, Abraham Nulton, and William Grim. The Nulton family in particular continued as tin and coppersmiths in Winchester well past the Civil War.

Cooking utensils and stoves were not the only household goods commonly produced, repaired, or sold by tinsmiths. The pie safe or food safe was another essential household piece in the era before refrigeration. These pieces, made in conjunction with a cabinetworker, generally feature a freestanding wooden frame on legs to elevate the bottom shelf from the floor. Characteristically, there are two hinged doors containing tin panels that allow access to interior shelves, and usually two small drawers above. The panels are ventilated with punchwork to allow heat to escape, but the overall design is intended to prevent pests from accessing the perishable foodstuffs or other valuables stored inside. Punchwork is European in origin and is created by punching the inside of the tin with a round-ended chisel. According to the 2014 MSV exhibit “Safes of the Valley,” the punched tin panels found in food safes often featured animals, including birds, leaping stags, roosters, and horses in Winchester and Frederick County. A Facebook page is still actively documenting new safe finds by the exhibit curators.

Kurtz Cultural Center Exhibits
Teakettle, George Reed, ca. 1815. An Irish emigrant, George Reed (1766-1849) settled in Winchester in 1788 and enjoyed a long career as a coppersmith.

The Simon Lauck House, 311 S. Loudoun
Hinges, attributed to Simon Lauck, c. 1785. These hinges were removed from Simon Lauck’s log house at 311 S. Loudoun St. They are similar in style to hinges made by the Moravians from Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Blacksmiths, on the other hand, work their metal (generally iron) in heat to cast, shape, and forge agricultural implements, tools, hardware, utensils, and other items. To make cast iron pieces, first the iron was melted in the furnace, then the molten iron was taken from the bottom of the furnace and cast into sand molds on the furnace floor. Pots, firebacks, stove plates, weights, and other small objects were cast, as well as irregular bars called pigs. These lumps of cast iron were sold to blacksmiths or small forges. Pigs were later reheated and forged by a huge hammer, usually driven by a water-powered wheel, into wrought iron. This process greatly increased the strength and malleability of the iron.

Lewis Stephens started an ironworks as early as 1760 about twelve miles from Winchester with three Pennsylvanian partners: John Hughes, Samuel Potts, and John Pottiac. Pennsylvania Quaker Isaac Zane, Jr. began his career as ironmaster at the age of 24 by purchasing a share in this blast furnace, and by 1768 he became the sole owner. This ironworks, known as Marlboro Furnace, was one of the largest and most prosperous ironworks in the area.

A bar of pig iron found locally almost undoubtedly came from the Marlboro Furnace. In addition to “pigs,” the Marlboro Furnace also manufactured cast iron stove plates, firebacks, andirons, and other small items. During the American Revolution, it was a major contributor of cannons and ammunition to General Washington’s army. Zane died in 1795, and the ironworks was shuttered in 1828. Even the hamlet that sprung up around the furnace has largely faded away, leaving as its legacy numerous household castings that reflect Zane’s sophistication and refined taste.

"West of the Blue Ridge" Exhibits
Blacksmith’s Bellows, ca. 1800: Making and repairing tools, nails, and horse shoes, blacksmiths were essential to the maintenance of everyday life in rural communities. This bellows, loaned from Gary Van Meter, has a history of use in the Valley.

William Phillips advertising his new business location in the Winchester Republican, August 4th, 1821.

Two other types of metalworking of a more luxurious nature also appeared early in the Shenandoah Valley – silversmiths and clockmakers. These professions seemed to go hand in hand, and often included jewelry in their repertoires. The coin silver, or early American silver made from melted-down coins, that was produced in the Valley was predominantly flatware: teaspoons, tablespoons, sugar tongs, and ladles. Fewer pieces of hollowware such as salts, beakers, sugar bowls, cream pitchers, and teapots were made, probably because they required more silver and thus were more expensive.

William Phillips was working in Winchester in the early 1800s. Originally trained as a silver bucklemaker in England, he came to America as an indentured servant. After a brief period of work in Middletown, he found his permanent home in Winchester. Proclaiming himself as a watchmaker, silversmith, and jeweler, he advertised his services in partnership with Daniel Hartman in 1802. The partnership of William Phillips and John Foster began in 1817. Silver tongs (1802-1814) and a toddy ladle (1817-1820) are some surviving examples of coin silver produced locally by Phillips.

Brief mention of Jacob Danner, a “natural genius,” in the Winchester Journal, June 5, 1868.

Middletown was known as a center for clockmaking as early as 1766, starting with wooden gears before moving on to brass and finally elaborate eight-day clocks. Jacob Danner of Middletown, who was a also a surveyor, created both clocks and mathematically-precise surveying equipment. An example of his work, a surveyor’s compass invented by Samuel Kern and executed by Danner, is part of the National Museum of American History.

The son of a Quaker clockmaker, Goldsmith Chandlee (1751-1821) moved to the Lower Valley about 1775. From his shop in Winchester he made clocks, surveyor and surgical instruments, compasses, sundials, telescopes, and other items. By the time craftsmen began to locate in the Lower Valley, lead was being used infrequently; however, Chandlee used it to great advantage when making sundials (c. 1800). Brass was also used by Chandlee when he made surveyors’ instruments and scales as well as sundials and the trimming on clock faces.

"West of the Blue Ridge" Exhibits
Tall-case clock, Caleb Davis, 1800-1805.

Perhaps one item most out of reach for the average household was that of a large case clock. The Valley had several clockmakers talented in the production of said pieces, combining woodworking, clockmaking, and even reverse glass painting skills to create a finished product. Some of the most beautiful local examples were created by Caleb Davis. A Woodstock clockmaker, watchmaker, jeweler, and artist who worked briefly in partnership with Jacob Fry between 1796-1800, Caleb Davis clocks are distinguished by their scenic painted lunettes. This example is one of six Davis clocks known with the painted lunette. The fluted quarter-columns are characteristic of Woodstock clock cases.

Join us next time on March 18 for a look at portraiture in the Valley!

Friday Roundup: Charlie Rouss Day Edition

Today is Charlie Rouss Day, celebrated on the birthday of this benefactor to Winchester. While no events were planned for 2022 due to the pandemic, you can celebrate by watching a quick video produced by the City of Winchester:

This time of year, PHW is also getting ready to celebrate its 58th birthday. We celebrated at the office by doing some filing for old newsletters discovered tucked into other file folders this week. Perhaps not the most festive thing to do, but important if we’re ever going to get around to scanning all the backlog!

Here are a few other upcoming events and a video that could be of interest to historians and preservationists:

Learn about Winchester in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and explore the history of the Godfrey Miller House. The event takes place February 16 at 2:30 PM in the Godfrey Miller Center, 28 S. Loudoun St. The tours will be led by Rev. Jonathan Boynton dressed in period costume. Rev. Boynton is an avid reenactment historian that has been delighting participants with his knowledge and entertaining presentations for more than 35 years.

A new highway marker honoring Dr. Madison S. Briscoe will be unveiled at his childhood home 204 S. Kent St. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2:30 PM (inclement weather date is Feb. 26). Parking is available at the Winchester Moose Lodge. Activities related to Dr. Briscoe will be held at the Discovery Museum between 11 AM and 2 PM on the same day.

Ready to learn about an innovative solution to preserving a fragile piece of the built environment? Check out A Massive Chainmail Shelter Prevents a Renowned Scottish Mansion from Dissolving in the Rain. Be sure to watch the quick video for a look at the building, inside and out. Even better, the innovative structure will be completely recyclable at the end of the fifteen-year project, being made entirely of steel.

Friday Roundup: Sundry Small Updates

It will be a brief roundup this week, as we’ve been working on PHW membership renewal letters. If you’d like to skip mailing a check, you can pay online using a credit/debit card. You can find the automatic subscription form on our website, along with a link to make a one-time donation or a form to mail in with your check (just in case you misplaced your form). Thanks in advance to everyone renewing for the 2022 year!

It’s Virginia General Assembly advocacy season at Preservation Virginia. The bills they have identified as a priority can be found on their website. They are currently following the progress of  SB 158 and HB 141, Virginia Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Historic Preservation Fund, which will establish a grant fund to support and provide nonprofit organizations, localities, and state and federally-recognized Indian tribes eligible costs to acquire, preserve and interpret historic structures, cultural landscapes and archaeological sites important to the history of Black, Indigenous and People of Color. No such fund currently exists to support these resources. Its establishment would help to ensure the preservation of historic sites and resources from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities, which traditionally have not been priorities for state conservation grant funding.

PHW is working on producing a pamphlet covering the Hexagon House. Do you have questions about the house and its history you want answered? Drop us a note and we’ll try to cover as many questions as possible. We’ve touched up our house history with information recently uncovered and are looking forward to printing this spring. Stay tuned for more details!

Ever wondered about the type of architectural detective work we do here at PHW? You might enjoy Didn’t Used To Be a Pizza Hut for the saga of uncovering land use history of a weird-looking Pizza Hut in Landover, MD. It’s quite a chain restaurant tale hitting both recognizable names like Pizza Hut and Howard Johnson and some mostly forgotten ones of a bygone era.

Last, for a bit of documentation of Vanished Winchester, you may wish to look through the Winchester Towers interior photography album on Facebook from shortly before the building was demolished. Thanks for sharing, Matthew Lofton!

Construction of the Winchester Towers
The Darlington Motor Inn in 1977, later Winchester Towers, at the corner of Cameron and Piccadilly streets.

Friday Roundup: Clearing the Backlog

Icy Nandina
It’s going to be a cold weekend – here’s some extra reading!

Oops – sometimes we save too many things in our bookmarks and don’t get to share them in a timely manner. To make things a bit more manageable on the back-end of blog post production and inspiration, here is a selection of links we’ve gathered over a few years (gulp):

From Strong Towns, here is a simple list of questions and attractive graphic titled Ask Yourself These 20 Questions to Make Better Decisions for Your Community. Many people seem to make impulsive decisions without thinking through consequences, and we encourage anyone who has had a thought of charging ahead on any decision to take a few moments of reflection and really consider consequences past your immediate gratification. If you need to make a lot of decisions and keep finding the decisions are not working out as planned, perhaps you should print out the graphic and hang it in some conspicuous places.

We dusted off our PHW PayPal Giving page this week. If you’d like to drop us a little monetary donation, you can use an existing PayPal account, or a credit or debit card. This function, as we just learned, allows for anonymous donations and PayPal covers your tax receipt.

History lovers, have you tried Wikitrivia? We checked it out over the snow days and had a fun time placing events and people along a timeline. Test your general history knowledge this weekend, and perhaps you’ll find a topic you’d like to explore further.

We’ve mentioned the photographs of John Margolies in the Library of Congress collections before, but Atlas Obscura covered his images of novelty gas stations across America in Fuel Your Imagination with Glorious Photos of Odd Gas Stations.

Ghost signs are a love it or hate it topic in historic preservation (personally, we love them). If you’ve ever wondered about the ghost sign on the mountainside at Harpers Ferry, check out The Sign Above the Tunnel for a quick history of the sign.

Black Businesses in Antebellum Virginia is a look into how freemen could become business owners – as well as underscoring how difficult such a path was and how it was not a guarantee their family could remain together and their business remain viable.

Is Winchester a “15-Minute Neighborhood” for you? Can you walk to most of your necessities in 15 minutes or less? (It’s close for us, but groceries are our sticking point, and probably yours, too.) We can see this process in the downtown, and in the recently-proposed rezoning for the North End, that we are heading toward this process of becoming more dense instead of expanding ever outward (due of course in part to Winchester’s limited geographic footprint). Strong Towns posted 7 Rules for Creating “15-Minute Neighborhoods,” even for areas that may not currently be set up to accommodate this ideal. We find this suggestion particularly resonant (and reflective of past building practices): “A 15-minute neighborhood may be dense, but the more important thing is that it’s fine-grained and truly mixes homes, businesses, and public spaces seamlessly instead of segregating them into zones. This is why we need to let all our neighborhoods thicken up incrementally, instead of building clusters of high-rises to meet the demand for new housing.”

Last, in keeping with our “West of the Blue Ridge” series, Native American Trails Key to Settlement from Mt. Airy News calls back to a few of our early installments in the series. Look for the Winchester mention!

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 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 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!