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'Pot Town' earned its title in early years

Gloria Stickley stands by a three-piece set of Letcher Eberly pottery
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Gloria Stickley, president of the Strasburg Museum, stands by a three-piece set of Letcher Eberly pottery that was featured at the 1904 Worlds Fair in Chicago. Rich Cooley/Daily

Industry that once dominated Strasburg is showcased even in New York

By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Born in the Shenandoah Valley in 1761, Strasburg was incorporated more than 150 years later in February 1922.

Founded by Peter Stover, the town earned its name from early settlers who likely hailed from Strasbourg, the capital of the German-speaking French province of Alsace, Virginia Hinkins Cadden wrote in "The Story of Strasburg," published in the Bicentennial Edition of The Northern Virginia Daily and later reprinted as a brochure.

Because the Shenandoah Valley began attracting immigrants from farmers to tradesmen, Strasburg quickly found itself flooded with talent that vaulted it into prosperity over the next 150 years.

"When the Shenandoah Valley was settled, three small and diverse industries developed out of the needs of the people," E.E. Keister wrote in his book, "Strasburg, Virginia and the Keister Family."

Grist mills were needed to grind grain into flour for baking bread, he wrote. Tanneries were constructed to convert hides of animals into leather, mainly for making shoes and harnesses. Potteries were built for making dishes used in meals and food storage, and it was the pottery trade that was the most famous in town. Strasburg, in fact, was often referred to as some variant of "Pot Town."

"Strasburg was fortunate in that it has an abundance of clay especially suited for making high-grade stoneware and earthenware," Keister wrote.

It was from 1880 to 1896 that manufacturing stoneware was the chief occupation in Strasburg, according to "The Shenandoah Pottery," by A.H. Rice and John Baer Stoudt, published in 1929.

Adam Keister Jr. and Henry Keister formed what was likely the first independent pottery in Strasburg, according to "Strasburg, Virginia and the Keister Family." Their business was followed quickly by five other potteries, which were most prosperous during the late 1800s, leading to one of the most influential pottery trades in America at the time.
The Sonner Pottery, located on the southeast corner of Washington and Fort streets, now houses the office of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, at 193 Washington St. Sonner's house, at 208 W. Queen St., built in 1757, is one of the oldest buildings in town.

Many of the independent potters or their employees also later worked for Strasburg Steam Pottery.

Jacob Jeremiah Eberly acquired the Keister Pottery in 1880, according to "The Shenandoah Pottery." Eberly's son and brother joined him later at separate times, producing stoneware and "fancyware" under the names J. Eberly & Bro., Strasburg, Va.; J.J. Eberly & Co., Strasburg, Va.; or Eberly & Son, Strasburg, Virginia.

The Civil War reduced all trades in Strasburg to ruins, but many of the potters pressed on, reinventing themselves, like Samuel H. Sonner, who acquired the old Bell Pottery in 1853 and picked up again after the war, purchasing a pottery at the corner of Depot and Church streets, to produce a product marked "S.H. Sonner, Strasburg, Va."

His son assumed the business in 1892 when steam pottery began, though he continued making stoneware and tile.

The Sonner potteries eventually ended operations, harmed by competition from Ohio potteries in the early 1900s, after several more ownerships by the Fleet and Miller families.
Products from the Bell and Eberly potteries now grace displays in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, said Gloria Stickley, of the Strasburg Museum.
"They've got a good display of Strasburg's pottery there," she said.

Letcher Eberly's work, too, has made its rounds for the world to enjoy. Now on display at the Strasburg Museum, it was featured at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1904.

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