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19th Century Pottery Production at Goose Lake Prairie


"Jugtown" was the colloquial name given to the small, unplatted settlement that developed around William White and Charles Walker's middle nineteenth-century pottery and tile works (variously known as "Goose Lake Stoneware Manufactory and Tile Works" and "White and Company's Pottery and Tile Works"). This pottery, which was established in 1856 in rural Grundy County near the western edge of what was once Goose Lake, was one of the earliest attempts at industrialized pottery and tile production in Illinois. Unfortunately for its financial backers, this pottery enterprise was unsuccessful, and it ceased production in 1866.

Today, the abandoned community of Jugtown (which is located approximately six miles east of Morris) is represented by two archaeological sites located along the north side of Pine Bluff Road within the Goose Lake State Natural Area (the Pottery Works Site and the Tile Works Site). Archaeological investigations were conducted at both sites to determine their potential for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. To be eligible for the National Register, the sites would have to contribute information relevant to our understanding of nineteenth-century pottery production methods, types of wares produced, and general living conditions of the pottery workers (and their families). Based on this work, it was determined that both sites contribute significantly to our understanding of this middle nineteenth-century craft, and thus, both sites have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their archaeological significance.

William White was raised in a traditional pottery family. In 1838, William's father, Noah, established a pottery shop along the Erie Canal in Utica, and soon, he was joined by his sons in the production of pottery wares-the firm being named "N. White and Sons."

Located near abundant clay resources (within the banks of Goose Lake) and within reach of a major transportation corridor (the Illinois and Michigan Canal), William White believed that Jugtown was the ideal location for the establishment of a pottery business. In October 1855, seeking his own fortunes, William White moved west to Illinois, and with Chicago financier Charles Walker, established the firm of “White and Company.” Together, the two businessmen purchased several hundred acres of land and industrial equipment and constructed the necessary buildings and kilns to produce both stoneware crockery and drain tile. According to the 1860 U. S. Census, the firm had invested $12,000 in this enterprise.

White and Walker’s partnership was soon fraught with difficulty. Although initially suspected as being a good location, the factory proved to be too far from the Canal and over poorly developed roads. Additionally, the financial crash and economic Panic of 1857 placed the partnership in dire economic circumstances. As a result, the partners were not able to meet their financial obligations, many creditors sued the firm, and tension grew between White and Walker -eventually leading to legal action and dissolution of the partnership in 1866. White relocated to Morris and established a short-lived pottery in that community.

The Pottery Works Site

The Pottery Works Site is represented by a dense scatter of stoneware sherds (representing the location of the pottery buildings) as well as several discrete concentrations of domestic debris (representing the remains of small houses and larger boarding houses). Both the archaeological and archival data suggest the houses were arranged around a common courtyard or public square with White’s house and pottery factory located at the head (north end) of the square. Archival information suggests a flagpole and community well were located within this public square. Four additional houses, a school, and the “city garden” were located across Pine Bluff Road to the south. The 1860 U. S. Census indicates that this operation employed six men at an average cost of $225/month. This particular operation was horse powered and had an annual production of 75 tons of stoneware valued at $5,000. The archaeological investigations have isolated the location of several house sites, as well as the location of the pottery workshop and kilns, and potentially White’s house.

The Tile Works Site

The Tile Works Site is represented by a dense scatter of stoneware sherds and structural debris as well as the bases of three pottery kilns. The 1863 county map labeled this area of the site as the “Pipe Factory.” According to the 1860 U. S. Census, the physical plant at this site was powered by a 10-horse power steam engine and operated by a force of 40 men with average monthly costs of $1,040. On hand at the time of the census were 500 cords of wood, 1,300 tons of clay, and 2,000 tons of coal. The company’s annual production was 2,800 tons of drain pipe valued at $28,000. Archaeological investigations at this site have given us new insights into the size and shape of early kilns. As this site had never been plowed, the remains of the three kilns (and other features) were well preserved. These kilns were large (approximately 25’ in diameter), constructed with massive stone foundations and side walls, and contained eight fire boxes spaced around the perimeter of the kiln chamber.