Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pen Hook Pottery

Last year, I acquired some pottery that I think is from the Pen Hook Pottery which hasn't existed for over a hundred years. (The village is now Penhook, one word instead of the original two.) I'd wanted to learn more about the pottery, but I couldn't find much online.

From p. 64, Franklin County 1785-1980 

Tex Carter, who is writing a book about the F&P railroad sent me two pictures taken at the Franklin County Historical Society Museum:

The exhibit pictured above is from Dorothy Cundiff, who knows local history and has been head of the Retail Merchant's Association for many years. Like me, she lives a few miles from where the pottery was.

The info in the picture frame: 

"About 1873, Kit Carter built a store across the road from Clement Store (later home to Mr. & Mrs. J.W. Perdue). Carter made pottery here about 12 years. In 1882, Wade Johnson began making pottery in back of what is now Blair's store (once Blair & —er's). The clay came from Pittsville. His [potters? partners?] were Elly Johnson and a Mr. Siegal.

"Janey Smith provided these pictures of pottery owned by her grandmother, Fannie Macenheimer Smith, who lived on Novelty Road at Penhook near the Pottery manufactory."

From an article on pages 45-46 in Franklin County 1785-1979 Yesterday & Today,  published by the Retail Merchants Assn, I learned this about the pottery: About 1879, a narrow gauge railroad was established to run from Rocky Mount to Franklin Junction (now Gretna). Since the railroad came through Pen Hook, where a store had been since the 1850s or earlier, the little town underwent a boom and a pottery shop opened in the 1880s. No trace of the pottery shop exists today, but it was apparently on a hill between what became Blair's Grocery (the building still remains) and Hodges' Store (which no longer exists).  Mr. C.L. "Kit" Carter founded the pottery business, and "his pottery bcame a fashionable item as well as a useful one." Clay for the pots came from Pittsville in Pittsylvania County and was delivered by train. It's possible that some local clay might have been used, too. Among his helpers at the pottery were A. J. Ramsey and Mary Ann Muse.

From p. 116 (a story by Miss Starn Carter of Gretna, VA): "He [Kit Carter] was a highly successful merchant at Pen Hook, manufacturer, and real estate operator. He operated a pottery keel [kiln?] and made many of the vessels still found around the county such as urns, churns, jugs, and jars. These were hauled by wagons into neighboring states and wagonloads of merchandise brought back to the store. The old Carter store stood on the hill in the vicinity of the home now owned by Mrs. Emmitt Jefferson."

Christopher ("Kit") Lawson Carter
Photo provided by his grandson Tex Carter

Pictured below are the pottery pieces I have. I don't know if all of them came from the Pen Hook Pottery or not. Some jugs are glazed in what is called the tobacco spit glaze because—although it was made from wood ash and not tobacco—it looks like chewing tobacco spit.

None of the pottery has a potter's signature, but I've been told that potters didn't want to be identified with their jugs that might be used for whiskey. I don't know if that's true or not.

The piece with a 2 is one of the few that have marks. I assume 2 stands for two gallons.

A few pieces appear to be salt-glazed with plume decorations.

Here's a view looking down.

All the pieces appear to be utilitarian. Nothing fancy here. Some are missing handles or show wear around their rims. Likely they were used for many years.

The paper towel roll will show the size of one of the larger jugs.

If anyone knows more about the pottery, I'd be glad to hear from you. Meanwhile, I'll keep researching.


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