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St. Johnsbury Stone Ware Pottery

Peggy's Post - June 2024


A very early industry of St. Johnsbury was that of Pottery. Edward Fairbanks in his book, St. Johnsbury, Vermont describes it as “An old-time land mark with low red buildings west of the river (Passumpsic) half a mile south of the Center Village, was the Pottery established in 1808 by Gen. R. W. Fenton….” Richard Webber Fenton was the son of Jonathan and Mary Cary Fenton born September 4, 1771. The family made it to Dorset, Vermont in 1801. After Richard’s marriage to Leefe Harrington in 1801 at Walpole, New Hampshire, they made their way to St. Johnsbury where he would begin the Pottery works in 1808.



One finds him often referred to as Major, a rank earned through active service in the old-time militia. In Fairbanks’ book, we find him active in affairs of the town from expelling dogs from the Meeting House on Sundays, to the founding of the Universalist Society of St. Johnsbury,  to justice of the peace and also the town treasurer in 1806.


The St. Johnsbury Stone Ware Pottery made both stoneware and redware. Stoneware clay was strong and non-porous and made large storage jars and water jugs.  This usually had a brushed decoration in cobalt glaze. The redware made with red clay was often decorated with slip glaze (watered down clay). Redware was not as durable.




The marriage of Major Fenton and Leefe yielded two daughters and a son, Leander, who would carry on the pottery business after the death of his father in 1851. Not only have pieces of pottery have survived but so did a price list of all they had to offer. This was seen by Arthur Stone who published a series of Old Time Stories of St. Johnsbury in the Caledonian Record in 1938 commemorating the 85th anniversary of the Passumpsic Savings Bank. This list was the property of Mrs. Walter Husband of Washington who was the great granddaughter of Major Fenton. In 1938, this price list was nearly a century old having been printed by Leander, “Manufacturer of every kind of stone ware.” Measuring 9 x 12, it listed all items produced which included, Jugs, jars, pots, bean pots, mugs, urn-shaped fountains, churns, pudding pots, beer bottles, soap dishes, Boston butter boxes, pitchers and even spittoons! Interesting still was the fact that they were priced by the dozen which suggests wholesale and a trade that certainly went beyond St. Johnsbury. A mention of some  two gallon churns were listed for $4.50 a dozen, while butter pots with a capacity of six gallons cost $15 dollars a dozen.


Sadly, the Fenton pottery burned to the ground in November of 1859. It is said that the area with a pond housed an icehouse in its next life. Today, most are more familiar with Fenton Bennington Pottery, which was run by other members of the Fenton family (Leander also worked there for a time).


Very early pieces of Fenton pottery were not labeled, but it is more common to find L.W. Fenton, and Fenton & Hancock pieces, If you are intrigued by this early industry, then please stop by and see the Fenton pottery that History & Heritage has on display and think about the beauty and age that it signifies in the early days of St. Johnsbury’s history.

 

St. Johnsbury History & Heritage, located at 421 Summer Street is now open 10 – 4, Monday through Friday and every first and third Saturday until the end of September. We welcome your visit to see how we are collecting, preserving and exhibiting St. Johnsbury’s history. Check out our web site and facebook page. Our phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.

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