Types of Wares Produced
The crockery produced at the Pottery Works Site was typical of that in
use during the middle nineteenth century. These wares were hand-turned
stoneware (high-fired, vitrified bodies) with a salt-glazed exterior and
brown-slipped interior. The majority of the wares produced at the
Pottery Site consisted of utilitarian foodway containers with jars
(crocks) and bowls accounting for over 80% of the production. Other,
less significant items included churns, jar lids, pitchers, flower pots,
spittoons, and chamber pots. Although very few of the items were
decorated, an occasional sherd exhibited evidence of a small
hand-painted application of cobalt blue.
Although the vast majority of these wares were produced with the aid of a
potter’s wheel using traditional craft techniques, the potters at this
site had begun to experiment with the production of molded wares. Molded
bowls and small jars appear in very limited quantities at this site.
Additionally, several varieties of molded jar lids with decorative rims
(incorporating either a rose, grape leaf, or rope design) were produced
at the site.
The Tile Works Site appears to have produced predominately stoneware
drain and sewerage tile. This tile was produced by extruding raw clay
through die of various diameters and cutting at various lengths. The
majority of the tile averaged 8” in diameter with some as large as 14”
in diameter. Unlike the hand-powered Pottery Works Site, the work
conducted at the Tile Works Site required a substantial steam power
engine and larger, unskilled work force.
Significance of the Site
During the nineteenth century, crockery containers (consisting
predominately of ceramic bowls, jars, churns, and jugs) used for food
preparation and storage were crucial to the operation of a home. During
the initial years of the century, redware (a soft, porous, red-paste
pottery) predominated. By the middle nineteenth century, better quality
stonewares (hard-paste, non-porous, vitrified wares) were being produced
in the state by several small farmer-potters.
During the middle-to-late-nineteenth century, the Midwestern ceramic
industry was transformed from a family-operated craft to an
industrialized-factory system of production. Early craft systems of
production were characterized by the skilled farmer-potter who organized
his work schedule around the agricultural seasons, shifting from
farming and potting depending on the season. The first step towards the
development of a factory system of production was the intensification of
the craft and the devotion of the skilled craftsman to his trade on a
more-or-less full-time basis, often adding numerous additional skilled
craftsmen to his work force. Later efforts at industrialization included
the mechanization of the craft, creating a division of labor
incorporating many unskilled workmen and creating a reorganization of
the workshop as well as the labor force.
Prior to the 1850s, there was very little commercial need for drainage
tile in Illinois. The little drainage tile used around the house
consisted of hand-coiled tile manufactured by the potter on a limited
basis. By the 1850s, large urban centers such as Chicago began
installing sanitary drainage systems, creating a demand for ceramic
drain tile. Additionally, the agricultural expansion of farmers into the
upland prairie of Illinois spurred an agricultural demand for drainage
tile. It was at this same time that several industrialized workshops
specializing in drain tile were established to meet the demand for such
products in Illinois.
Begun in 1856, William White’s Gooselake Stoneware Manufactory was one
of the first attempts, if not the first attempt, at large-scale
stoneware production in Illinois. Similarly, as noted by the magazine
Prairie Farmer, it probably was one of the first two tile factories in
the state of Illinois. The archaeological investigations at this site
have given us new insights into the structure of the sites, as well as
the types of wares being produced.
The White’s pottery workshop was organized in a traditional manner,
under the direction of a master-craftsman working with a number of
skilled potters producing a hand-manufactured product. Although the
incipient factory was organized around skilled labor (potters), a
division of labor was established with a wide range of non-skilled
workmen contributing to the labor pool. Evidence suggests that the
workshop had begun to mechanize (with the introduction of molding
equipment) prior to the final closure of the plant. In contrast, the
tile workshop was more mechanized from the beginning, employing the use
of a steam engine and mechanical dies, and required fewer skilled
craftsmen to operate.
For additional information regarding William White and the pottery/tile
workshop at Jugtown, the reader should refer to Floyd Mansberger’s
“Early Industrialized Pottery Production in Illinois: Archaeological
Investigations at White and Company’s Gooselake Stoneware Manufactory
and Tile Works, Rural Grundy County, Illinois” (1997, Illinois State
Museum Reports of Investigations, No. 53, Springfield).
Photos courtesy of Fever River Research.
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