29 June 2011

Catlettsburg Pottery

Compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
June 2011

About twelve years ago hubby and I attended an auction in Russell, Kentucky.  The auction ran into the wee hours of the night but there were some exciting items that kept everyone alert.  The item that brought the most attention and bids was a 5 gallon salt ware crock marked Catlettsburg, Kentucky.  We have inherited a Cecil crock from Catlettsburg and also have a more widely known Hamilton & Jones crock from Greensboro, Pennsylvania.  Since, at the time, we were living in the heart of pottery country in Muskingum County, Ohio,  I made a mental note to someday research the early potteries of Catlettsburg, Boyd County, Kentucky.

The clay utilized for salt ware has a white grey appearance.   The term salt ware is applied because salt would be tossed in the kiln at the highest temperature.  As it vaporized it created a shiny glaze.  Salt glazed ware began to replace wood vessels for food storage in the mid to late 1870’s.  The pottery is also referred to simply as stoneware.

The compound cobalt can also withstand extreme temperatures produced in the kilns. The decorators would either free hand or stencil the name of the pottery or an advertizing firm’s name on the piece, using slip made with the cobalt, creating a beautiful blue that is prized by collectors.  Since clay has variations because of locale and firing results each piece of crockery is unique.  My love of all things with a history combined with my favorite color blue makes these beautiful historic pieces one of my favorites.

William Ely mentions potter’s clay along the banks of Big Sandy in his book The Big Sandy Valley.  The United States Geological Survey Bulletin 1896-1905 talks about clay used principally in the manufacture of fire brick and locally suitable for pottery in Catlettsburg.  It goes on to cite that the product was also obtained near Amanda Furnace in Greenup County and shipped to Cincinnati for the same purpose.  The 1906 Kentucky Geological Survey says that clay rests on Ferriferous limestone and has been found in the cliff between Ashland and Catlettsburg.  “The color of the clay varies from dark near the top to a light drab below.”  The article goes on to state that “Forty feet below the clay opening, at the base of the cliff-forming sandstone, coal number four is now being mined and used at the pottery plant.  … Underneath the coal is a deposit of fire clay three feet in thickness…”

Local newspapers are housed at the Boyd County Public Library, many of which have not been microfilmed.  The first advertisement mentioning pottery at Catlettsburg indicates it is being shipped on the river to the wharf.  The ad indicates that there must not be a producing pottery large enough to meet buyer demand locally and thus is being imported.  The ad appeared in the Big Sandy Herald December 1869 and involves Colbert Cecil who will be cited later in this article.


The Catlettsburg Centennial 1949, page 14 states “James Le Grand McLean operated a pottery on what is now Oakland Avenue…produced jugs, churns, jars...the pottery was torn down in 1890. Work continued for the Weaver Pottery in the lower end of town in …1888…Above McLean Pottery and facing the railroad was John W. Dillon’s Machine Shop.”  The article provides great clues for further research.    Early Sanborn maps show that James L. McLean does have a lot next to Mrs. J. W. Dillon’s Pottery on Louisa Street which would later become Oakland Avenue. No kiln nor pottery is shown on McLean’s lot.  But the Dillon property shows a substantial building with another building housing a kiln on Mrs. Dillon’s property which borders John W. Dillons Machine Shop.   John L. Vance in his History of the Great Flood of 1884 made a list of “sufferers” from the Ashland Democrat. The list appears to have been compiled as they went from location to location and includes the following names in the order given: “…J. W. Dillon, A. Borders, A. P. Borders, Catlettsburg Pottery Company, Stein & Son…”  

James McLean does not appear in the Federal Census in 1880 in Catlettsburg.  The 1892 Wiggins Directory for Catlettsburg lists James L McLean at 320 Louisa Street and the Foundry of J. W. Dillon at 336 Louisa Street.  By 1900 McLean gives his occupation as brewery man.  James Le Grande McLean was born in 1851 in Ohio and died in 1907.  He married Minnie F. Price 17 November 1886 in Boyd County, Kentucky.[i]  He and his family are buried in Catlettsburg Cemetery.  The lot that McLean lived on had been a small portion of property owned by Archibald Borders.  It appears that McLean worked next door at the Dillon’s pottery operation.

 I have not located any person listing their occupation as potter in the 1880 Federal Census.  John Dillon lists his occupation in  both the 1870 and 1880 Catlettsburg census as Machinist. Having reviewed records from the formation of the county in 1860 including IRS tax records of the early 1860’s I find no one paying tax on pottery manufacturing during the years leading up to the 1880’s.    John W. Dillon married Julia Ann Borders, the daughter of Archibald Borders 19 April 1863.  There is no indication that they had a large pottery until the 1880's.  Thus it is this writer’s theory that the first significant pottery production in Catlettsburg did not commence until between 1880 and 1884.

The Dillon couple received property on Louisa Street from Archibald Borders[ii] the year after they married where they settled and John W. Dillon built his large machine shop and an excellent reputation.

The first advertisement for Catlettsburg Pottery Company that I have located from the scattered newspaper collection is from the 27 August 1884 Kentucky Democrat, the same year as the flood.  The ad clearly states that in 1884 John Dillon, J. W. Dillon and Thomas L. Marr are partnering and manufacturing pottery as the Catlettsburg Pottery Company on Louisa Street.


Julia’s father and brother A. P. Borders shipped goods via steamer along the Sandy River. Their goods include crockery. Her husband, John W. Dillon, was the son of John Wesley Dillon [1801-1891] from Burlington, Lawrence County, Ohio.  The elder John Dillon purchased a pottery from Joshua Hambleton[iii] in Burlington.  Thus John W. Dillon was more than familiar with the working and running of a pottery business. 

Captain Ellis Clarence Mace born 1862 near Burlington wrote an autobiography[iv] and mentions a boat the Sandy Fashion that blew up at the mouth of Sandy in 1879 and killed two people.  “I was at this time working for the Burlington Pottery.  John Dillon would give us boys seventy-five cents to take a skiff  load of jugs down to Catlettsburg and ship on one of these boats.  That day we had just delivered a consignment to the Sandy Fashion and we left for home at the same time she left for Pikeville.  We were about half a mile above the point when she exploded her boiler. Joe Newberg and Alfonzo Osborn were killed. Osborn was pilot.”   It is easy to see that the Dillon pottery on Louisa Street was an extension of John Dillon’s pottery across the river at Burlington, Ohio, and did not start firing until after 1880.   Maybe the cost and hardship of skiffing the pottery from Burlington to Catlettsburg was the catalyst for encouraging the younger Dillon to open a pottery on Louisa Street where shipping was thriving.

The other partner involved, according to the ad, in the earliest Catlettsburg Pottery was Thomas L. Marr.  Marr married Matilda Williamson, daughter of Benjamin and Easter Deskins Williamson in Lawrence County, Ohio. In 1880 he was working as a clerk on a wharf boat in Catlettsburg.    He would be one of the first people to notice how productive pottery was as it was shipped in and out of Catlettsburg. The 1892 Wiggins Directory of Catlettsburg lists him as a bookkeeper living on Penola Avenue.  In all probability his contribution to the pottery was keeping books.  When Matilda died in Cabell County, West Virginia Thomas moved back to Catlettsburg living on Front Street in 1910.  Thomas L. Marr died 30 December 1920.  The couple is buried in Catlettsburg Cemetery.

 A social news article appeared in  April 1891 at Burlington stating that “John W. Dillon, of Catlettsburg, was in town a few days ago”[v].  John’s father, the elder John W. Dillon died in 1891.  A newer and larger pottery was established in the north end of  Catlettsburg in 1889.  With the death of the elder Dillon, his own age and the growth of the newer pottery the demise of the Dillon works was eminent. The 1901 Sanborn map still shows the Dillon Pottery works but has added “not in operation.”    John W. Dillon died 9 October 1902 and is buried in Catlettsburg Cemetery.  Julia Ann Borders Dillon lived until 19 July 1909 and is buried beside her husband.

For Catlettsburg pottery lovers narrowing down exactly which pottery produced a pot marked “Catlettsburg Pottery Company” may be difficult.  On 5 September 1889 D. D. Gieger and A. L. McDyer went to the courthouse and filed incorporation papers under the name of Catlettsburg Pottery Company.  It is unclear at this point in my research if Dillon gave them permission to utilize the name or not.  Did he sell his pottery wheels, molds and other equipment to the new pottery?  What is clear is that Dillon was the first to use the company name.  

Capital stock, at $100.00 per share, in the new Catlettsburg Pottery Company was held as follows: D. D. Geiger 2 shares; A. L. McDyer 30 shares; C. W. Berger 1 share; C. Cecil Jr. 1 share; John McDyer 4 shares.  The purpose of the said incorporated company was the manufacturing and sale of stoneware, sewer pipe, tiling and paving bricks.  The incorporation was stipulated to commence on the 16th of September 1889 and continue in said manner for 25 years.  I found no renewal which indicates the Corporation of Catlettsburg Pottery Company would be defunct by 1914.

Incorporated as such, the pottery ran under various name changes throughout it’s life.   First called McDyer & Co. Pottery it was built on the Ashland and Catlettsburg Turnpike “one mile north of the courthouse.”[vi]  It appears prior to the filing of Incorporation on the Sanborn Map in 1885. The detailed drawing shows a large furnace within the building that is brick lined.  Extending back from the furnace is a large kiln.  Notations state that there is no watchman, no hose, no lights, heat live steam and fuel wood.

John McDyer, son of John and Laverna Hutchinson  McDyer, married Nellie Geiger in Boyd County 20 April 1881.[vii]  Nellie was the daughter of D. D. Geiger and Anna Eliza Henderson. Prior to John’s marriage the 1880 census lists his occupation simply as merchant. The Ashland Independent 24 November 1881 writes “Rev. I. B. Hutchinson ceased cutting calico long enough the other day to join in matrimony Joshiah Bush of West Virginia to Miss Elizabeth Smith of Ohio, who were married among the bales, boxes and bundles of goods in John McDyer & Co.’s store in which the Reverend is chief clerk.”[viii]  Among those boxes and bundles one can visualize a crock or two.  But there is no mention of the word “pottery” when referencing the store.

John McDyer was one of the twelve jurors selected for the murder trial of William Neal in January 1882.[ix] In August 1887 William Geiger wrote in his diary that he voted for John McDyer for Legislature against Jim Hughes.  By 1900 McDyer is listed as a surveyor. [x]   He acted as the county engineer, was instrumental in forming the Catlettsburg Chamber of Commerce, and bid on a bridge over the Big Sandy River.  When John McDyer died 13 December 1914 his death certificate lists him as a civil engineer.[xi]  Well known and community active, sadly his wife, Nellie Geiger McDyer, who lived until 28 November 1940 died alone in the Masonic Home of Kentucky for Widows and Orphans in Jefferson County, Kentucky.[xii]  Both John and Nellie are buried in Ashland Cemetery.

There is no mention in any materials reviewed for this article of John’s interest in the Catlettsburg Pottery other than his 4 shares in the corporation.  The main shares of Catlettsburg Pottery Company were held by  A. L. McDyer. As of this writing no information has been located for A. L. McDyer. 

Shortly after the 1900 census the pottery name changed to the K. B. Cecil Pottery Company.  The 1901 Sanborn map once again indicates that they have no watchman, no lights and no hoses.  The map shows no expansion of the pottery nor the kiln.  The grounds appear the same.  Kinzie Berry Cecil was the son of  Colbert Cecil Jr. and wife Arabella “Belle” Miller Cecil.    Another son William Cecil is listed as a pottery manufacturer, living with his mother in 1900 making it highly probable that the brothers worked together utilizing their father’s share in the pottery.

Colbert Cecil Jr. along with John McDyer were among nine gentleman that formed the Catlettsburg Cemetery Association in 1882. Colbert Cecil Jr. was a wholesale dealer.  Ads appear in early Catlettsburg newspapers as C. Cecil, Jr. selling stoves, grates, mantels, hollowware, glass and Queensware.  An ad in the Kentucky Democrat 12 January 1887 states that he is also a manufacturer of tinware.  The store was on Front Street in Catlettsburg.  Potteries made good profit by taking orders for advertising. Cecil took advantage of this advertising opportunity.


Colbert Cecil Jr. died in 1896.  It is conjecture that his sons would have received his share in the Catlettsburg Pottery Company Corporation.  The information  helps date the  crock prior to 1896 in the picture above. 

Kinsey Berry Cecil was only 24 years old when the pottery was named the K. B. Cecil Pottery Company.  With great flair the Catlettsburg Pottery Company with K. B. Cecil as owner was published in the Annuaire De La Verrerie Et De La Ceramique in 1906.  Yet after only five years the K. B. Cecil Pottery Company  had changed hands in 1905 before the publication reached readers.  By 1910 Kinsey/Kinzie Berry Cecil along with a brother named Colbert Cecil III were involved in banking. Brother William had become proprietor of a hotel on Penola Street. Kinsey Berry Cecil was a cashier at the Catlettsburg National Bank while Colbert was employed as a bookkeeper in the same bank. In  April 1916 Colbert Cecil Jr.  was convicted of “misapplication” of funds while working at the Catlettsburg National Bank. He received a five year sentence.[xiii]   By 1920 Colbert was back in Catlettsburg residing with his mother on Louisa Street with no occupation.  Divorced and still listed with no occupation Colbert Cecil III died 17 February 1953 in The C&O hospital at Huntington, West Virginia.[xiv]     Kinzie Berry Cecil’s life was a success story.  He had moved to Philadelphia by 1920 and unlike his wayward brother became a bank examiner for the United States Treasury.[xv]  Kinzie died in 1954 and is buried in Catlettsburg Cemetery  William also died in 1954 and is buried along with his brothers and parents.

The pottery became Weaver Pottery in 1905. The Brick and Clay Record reported that the Weaver Pottery Co., of Catlettsburg, Kentucky was considering the advisability of increasing the capacity of its pottery in March 1905.  The Sanborn map for 1907 shows that the kiln had been damaged by fire and the word “dilapidated” is written across the plat showing the grind room and brick lined furnace.  But the pottery was updated as shown on the 1912 Sanborn map.  They still had no lights and no fire apparatus but were using steam coal and gas for fuel. The 1906 Kentucky Geological Survey describes the plant as “near Cliffside Park, between Ashland and Catlettsburg…in the manufacture of jugs, churns and similar wares…The plant has one round, down-draft kiln of 4,500 gallons capacity. It requires sixty hours to burn the ware.  Coal is used as the fuel.” 

John Weaver was a potter operating in Fayette Township, Lawrence County, Ohio in 1880.  It is unclear if he owns his own pottery in the Burlington area or if he was possibly connected with John Dillon. What is clear is that he migrated from Roseville, Muskingum County, Ohio, the heart of all things pottery to Lawrence County, Ohio shortly after the birth of his son Earl Morton Weaver in July 1877. John L. Weaver married Martha J. Thomas in 1866 in Perry County, Ohio.[xvi]

By 1910 Earl Weaver is listed as the owner of a pottery in Catlettsburg, Kentucky.   Earl married Mayme B. Williams 14 January 1906 in Boyd County, Kentucky.[xvii]  When Earl died in January 1934 an obituary states that his father was the founder of the Weaver Pottery Company of Catlettsburg.[xviii]  Under the guidance of Earl Weaver and the knowledge of the Weaver Potteries the business flourished until 1922.  In 1921 The Chilton Hotel Supply Index listed Weaver as one of their suppliers along with Weller Pottery in Zanesville, Ohio.  Then in 1922 Albert Foster Crider wrote “…pottery plant located near Cliffside Park between Ashland and Catlettsburg…which was still in operation in 1912, but is no longer.  It made stoneware jugs, etc. At the present day there are few potteries in operation within the state…” [xix]  By 1924 Earl is listed as an employee of the Ashland Fire Brick Company. Earl Weaver died in Boyd County 1 January 1934[xx]  His simple will was written in April 1926 leaving all real and personal estate to wife Mayme.[xxi]  Both are buried in the Williams section of Golden Oaks Cemetery.

While  the fire in the kiln went out a legacy of wonderful salt glazed pottery still tantalizes collectors of stoneware and local history buffs, leaving tangible evidence of the craftsmanship and ingenuity of our ancestors.














[i] Boyd County, Kentucky Marriage Book 9A page 175
[ii] Boyd County Deed book 2 page 4
[iii] Ironton Register, Thursday, Aug 29, 1895
[iv] http://incolor.inetnebr.com/raydar/notiongoing/dox/ellis1big.htm
[v] Ironton Register, April 16, 1891
[vi] Sanborn Map, Catlettsburg, KY 1907
[vii] Boyd County, Kentucky Marriage Book 7A page 57
[viii] Jackson, Evelyn, Bygone Bylines, page 42
[ix] Daily Evening Bulletin, 17 Jan 1882
[x] Ker, Charles, History of Kentucky, Volume #4
[xi] Kentucky Vital Statistics, Boyd County Death Certificate 1914-30764
[xii] Kentucky Vital Statistics, Jefferson County Death Certificate 1940-26439
[xiii] Hartford News, Hartford, Kentucky 12 April 1916
[xiv] West Virginia Vital Certificate, Cabell County #1255
[xv] Census, 1920, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 24-WD Series T625, roll 1627 page 71
[xvi] Perry County, Ohio  Male Index to Marriage Records 1818-1914, Marriage book 4 page 434
[xvii] Boyd County, Kentucky Marriage Book 24A page 83A
[xviii] Portsmouth Times, 3 Jan. 1934
[xix] Clays of Kentucky, Series 6, Volume 8 Kentucky Geological Survey, 1922
[xx] Kentucky Vital Record, Death Certificate Boyd 1934 - 168
[xxi] Boyd County Will Book 4 page 276

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