history a p donaghho parkersburg - Mackey's Antiques & Clock Repair

History of A. P. Donaghho Parkersburg wv

Mackey's Antiques & Clock Repair
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Parkersburg WV 26101

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The Donaghho crock is one relic which may be found in antique and secondhand stores across West Virginia. Donaghho's stoneware pottery was more than just a Parkersburg industry. Stoneware was a necessity of the 19th century, providing a durable container for food storage and processing used daily by our ancestors. Since the Donaghho kilns stopped firing pottery only many years ago, the history of this local industry is not necessarily to be found in written texts. Much of the Donaghho story lives in the oral traditions of the community, just as the stoneware jugs and jars have survived in Parkersburg's cellars and outbuildings. Former employees of the pottery could still be interviewed not so many years ago, and well into. the 20th century street car conductors still called the intersection of Murdock and Emerson avenues "Pottery Junction."


Tradition has it that Alexander or "A. P." Donaghho, as he was commonly referred to, came to Parkersburg from Pennsylvania in the early 1870's to buy the community's first pottery business, then owned by Nathaniel Clark. An early partner of Donaghho's by the name of Krause was mentioned by Dan Mercer, one of the last employees of the pottery. Prior to the turn of the century, A. P. Donaghho's son, Walter, joined in the business and became principal owner when his father died in 1899. Within the next 10 years, the clay sources expired and the property was sold to U.S. Senator J. N. Camden.


With only minor variation this account has been retold countless times, and periodically Parkersburg newspapers have published articles rekindling local interest in Donaghho. Such traditional stories are a good starting point in the study of Donaghho and other local potteries in Parkersburg. But the public memory, although generally faithful to the truth, may include some details which may not be absolute fact. Fortunately, there are literally hundreds of other sources available to historians of local lore. Some of the most important are census records, city directories, industrial advertisements, and various courthouse records, including deeds, wills, and mortgage information. Many of these include minor details about Parkersburg's potteries. Added together, a concise history of this industry can be written.


The West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey is one good source, summarizing clay industry information in two published reports. G. P. Grimsley's 1908 Survey report, Clays, Limestones and Cements, has one of the finest early accounts of the industry in Parkersburg. Although this report focuses on the nature of the clay used by Donaghho, a very good historical description of the pottery and how it operated is included. "It was built in 1866 and has been under the present ownership since 1874," Grimsley states. "The articles made are stoneware crocks, jugs, jars, earthenware, and flower pots. The clay is ground in a wet pan, molded on two power wheels and one foot power wheel, and dried by steam in two large rooms for 48 hours. The ware is placed on long board shelves set on racks, where it is fired by steam." Grimsley added further details on the manufacturing process.


The ware is burned in two conical updraft kilns 13 feet high and 13 feet in diameter inside, his report notes. The kilns are at each end of the frame building, containing the machinery and dry rooms. One kiln is used for salt glazed ware and the other is a muffle kiln for slip glazed ware. Wood and coal are used for fuel and the kilns are burned 30 to 48 hours. The capacity of the plant is about 5000 gallons a week, equal to two kilns. Milk pans and flower pots are molded in plaster molds, while the other ware is turned by hand. Power is furnished by two gas engines.


The product is sold in West Virginia and much of it is shipped to Virginia, South Carolina, and even Ohio, Grimsley goes on to say. The wording suggests that he found the Ohio market a little surprising, considering the state's own strong stoneware industry. That Donaghho ware was competitive there suggests that a good product was being made at a good price. Grimsley's description may be compared to the plan map of the kiln found in the 1886 edition of An Atlas of Wood County, West Virginia by J. M. Lathrop, H. C. Penny, and W. R. Proctor. Their map accurately shows the east to west alignment of the two kilns and the connecting shed used to house the machinery and the drying stoneware. It also suggests another interconnected work or storage building to the north. Small ancillary buildings are indicated. It is fortunate that both the written description and the map drawings were completed, since no overall photographic views of the pottery are available.


Although tradition remembers only the kicking of the potters wheel and the laborious turning of the clay mill by a blind horse named Charlie, Donaghho's had apparently introduced a stationary steam engine to his shop. This engine was used to drive the two power wheels Grimsley mentions and to produce steam to heat the drying room, where the ware was slowly dried prior to firing. With the advent of the gasoline engine, this new power source was also added to the operation to increase the efficiency of the plant.


Although Donaghho is best remembered for his operations in Parkersburg, he learned his trade in his native state of Pennsylvania. Both historical references and cobalt stenciling on Donaghho stoneware indicate that he had owned a pottery in Fredericktown, Pennsylvania, on the west bank of the Monongahela River. He was probably born in this Washington County community. The lower Monongahela Valley was one of the most important stoneware manufacturing districts in the upper Ohio Valley region, providing a ready source of clay suitable for high temperature firing.


As a small boy, A. P. Donaghho would have had the opportunity to learn about this industry near his home on the Monongahela. An 1882 history of Washington County states that the Donaghho family first began to produce stoneware along the Monongahela in 1843. The book goes on to indicate that the first potters name was "Polk Donaghho. Census records and A. P. Donazhho's grave marker in the Parkersburg Odd Fellows Cemetery both agree that he was born in 1829. If the 1843 date for the first Fredericktown firing is correct, A. P. Donaghho would have been only 14 years old and obviously not the master potter.


Donaghho's biographical sketch in The History of the Upper Ohio Valley says that John Donaghho, A. P.'s father, was a schoolteacher and merchant and not in the pottery business. Presumably the first Donaghho stoneware was made by a relative of A. P., possibly an uncle. On the other hand, the date of 1843 might be in error by five or 10 years, and A. P. in earlier years may have been called by his middle name, Polk. At any rate, it's clear that young Donaghho did learn the trade in the lower Monongahela Valley pottery district. Donaghho continued making pottery along the Monongahela until 1852. That year he made an unsuccessful trip to California to establish a pottery there. Soon afterwards, Donaghho again began to make stoneware in western Pennsylvania. He continued to fire pottery throughout the 1860's, but evidently retained no ownership in any Pennsylvania pottery after he moved to West Virginia.


Some references suggest that Donaghho came to Parkersburg in 1872 or 1874. However, Wood County census records indicate, as does Donaghho's biographical sketch, that he came by 1870. In fact, an 1894 article on the pottery in Smith's Index, a local paper, states precisely that Donaghho moved to the area in January of 1870. Property deeds show that he acquired his first piece of property just outside the Parkersburg city limits in the summer of that year. This four-acre tract on Bullskin Creek would become the site of his pottery and was specified as the "Donaghho Pottery Property" in the sale by his heirs in 1906.


Tradition has it that Donaghho and an earlier Parkersburg potter, Nathaniel Clark, had some business arrangement which ultimately led to Donaghho acquiring sole ownership of this property But historical evidence suggests that Clark may have died several years prior to 1870 and could not have been associated with Donaghho. Land deeds indicate that Clark, Parkersburg's first known potter, came to this area by 1849 and acquired property, possibly the site of the kiln or clay bank. In addition to Clark, several other potters are listed in the various census records in the late 1800's.


In the 1850 census, 24-year-old Robert M. Dickson, born in Pennsylvania, and 31-year-old George Gicer, an immigrant from Germany, are listed as living in the Clark household. By 1860, the Clark pottery had only one helper, Clark Burley, a former resident of Ohio. Nathaniel Clark's son also worked in the pottery. The census of 1870 indicates that the pottery industry in Parkersburg had become more vigorous, with at least two potteries in operation. Young Clark was still active, as was Parkerburg's newest potter, A. P. Donaghho. Other potters listed were Justice Graham, James Crouse, and John Holmes, all from Ohio, and John Crumine from Virginia. It is unclear which pottery employed Graham, but perhaps he came with Donaghho, since his daughter had been born in Pennsylvania the previous year. There is less doubt about John Crumine, who was listed as a part of Donaghho's household.


Evidence has been found which suggests that John Holmes worked independently of both Clark and Donaghho. Traditional information indicates that James Crouse (or Krause) was associated with the Donaghho Pottery. In fact, two popular misconceptions about the Donaghho pottery are associated with James Crouse. Dan Mercer, the last laborer working for the Donaghho's, thought that Crouse was a business partner of Donaghho and that he had some financial interests in the pottery. Some people have assumed that this is the reason why Parkersburg's most successful pottery was called Excelsior Pottery and not simply Donaghho. But James Crouse was listed merely as a potter's hand in the 1870 census, and the Parkersburg city directory three years later clearly states that A. P. Donaghho was the "sole owner" of Excelsior Pottery.


The only financial dealings known between Donaghho and Crouse are found in a deed recorded in the Wood County Courthouse. In

1882, a fifth of an acre owned by Crouse was conveyed to A. P. Donaghho. This confusion about the ownership of the pottery and the assumption that the Excelsior name was used only during the first few years has led to the belief that certain pieces of stoneware marked with the Excelsior name are older than those stenciled "A. P. Donaghho". But the historical evidence does not support the discontinuation of the Excelsior name until 1900 or after. Excelsior is listed in at least two county directories, 1873 and 1896. The last documented evidence for the use of this name is found on a sales slip dated August 2, 1900, after the death of A. P. Donaghho himself in 1899. Only when the business reverted to the Donaghho heirs is there any evidence of the discontinuation of the Excelsior name, at which time the business was simply referred to as the "Donaghho Pottery.


Although the Excelsior logo is not indicative of age, the use of this stencil was reserved for larger pieces of stoneware over two or three gallons in size. Lesser examples are marked with only the name of "A. P. Donaghho" and the site of the pottery, "Parkersburg, W.Va." A. P. Donaghho remained sole owner of Excelsior Pottery until the mid-1880's, when son Walter became part of the firm. Walter Donaghho was born in 1859 and evidently was learning the trade by the age of 14. He finished school by the end of the decade and apparently began working full time in the family pottery. Smith's Index states that Walter was made a full partner in 1884 at the age of 25. The Excelsior name was still used on the ware, although all receipts and advertisements after 1884 were in the name of "A. P. Donaghho and Son." Of course, Walter became the principal owner when his father died in 1899, with the rest of the business reverting to the other Donaghho heirs.


No doubt the occurrence of stoneware marked "Donaghho Pottery" is indicative of the new ownership, and may help date the stoneware stenciled "A. P. Donaghho" as before 1900 and stoneware marked "Donaghho Pottery" as after 1900. The pottery is listed in both the 1905 and in the 1907 Parkersburg city directories. G. P. Grimsley's 1908 report suggests that the firm was still in operation at that time, but a 1910 Geological Survey report of the Wood County area indicates that the Donaghho plant had been abandoned for several years. Information for both the 1907 city directory and the 1908 Grimsley report must have been gathered in 1906, since the sale of the property by the heirs of A. P. Donaghho on September 3, 1906, can be considered a terminal date for the plant. Obviously, the sale of the property might not coincide with the last firing of the kilns, but the pottery was apparently still in full operation during Grimsley's visit and Walter was still referring to himself as a potter in the 1907 directory.


At any rate, the pottery was in demise by the turn of the century and possibly for several months in 1906 Walter was simply selling the remainder of the stock, the equipment, and finally the property itself. By this time, stoneware did not enjoy the same market advantages it once had. The closing of the Donaghho pottery in 1906 roughly coincides with the diminishing stoneware trade in general. The Bureau of Weights and Measures had recently been established and strict standardization of vessel size had to be adhered to by each potter. More importantly, small stoneware manufacturers were meeting stiff competition from both the very large potteries in such places as East Liverpool, Ohio, and various glass manufacturers.


The continuation of the Donaghho pottery for even a few years after 1900 was due only to good management and high volume trading. Folk stories about there being at least one Donaghho crock or churn in the corner of every kitchen in our region may not be an exaggeration. Grimsley estimated that the Donaghho pottery could fire 5,000 gallons per week, and an 1896 Parkersburg industrial newspaper advertised that the plant fired 150,000 gallons per year. This is substantiated by Smith's Index, which states that   Donaghho's fired 75 kiln loads per year. At such a large volume, rivaling any plant in the competing Monongahela River district, the Dopnaghho pottery would have been a major contender in the market. It is easy to see why literally hundreds if not thousands of Donaghho pieces have survived until today.


Although Parkersburg's stoneware industry continued to operate for a short time after 1900, advances in glass technology eventually made potteries like Donaghho's uncompetitive. Glass containers could be made cheaply and more easily styled. The transparency of glass and its relative weight offset stoneware's durability. Methods for home canning in glass improved and made the traditional preserving and storage of goods in stoneware less attractive. Stoneware preserving was limited to pickled foods such as kraut, beans, corn, turnips or cucumbers; some cooked fruits; and cooked meats like pork, sealed under lard. The storage and processing of milk, cream and butter in stoneware crocks and pans were made obsolete by cheaper, lighter and easily cleaned glass.


In short, Walter Donaghho faced great problems in the months before the autumn of 1906. No doubt, sales of stoneware had slowed and clay on the pottery property may have been nearly exhausted. Cheap property in the area where clay could be dug was nonexistent, because the city was expanding northward and had encompassed the pottery property. Walter Donaghho was faced with the decision whether to move the business or to discontinue its operation. He knew that even if the pottery was moved, it still might not flourish as it once had. Such a move would have necessitated higher prices in an already tight market.


Today we know that Walter Donaghho's final decision marks more than the end of one of Parkersburg's leading industries. His decision coincides with the decline in the production of local stone wares across the United States. In the 19th century, stoneware was a necessity and prior to 1906 the Donaghho mark was looked to as a standard of quality. Parkersburg stoneware is still being

sought in the Mountain State, but the reasons are different. Today, the name Donaghho is merely an antique novelty in a new kind of market in our region.


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