History of West Virginia Mineral Industries - Clay

Dividing Line

Clay has been an important resource in West Virginia throughout history. It has primarily been used in the pottery and brick industries. The quality of the clay (content of fluxing impurities) is important in determining its uses.

The first pottery established west of the Appalachians is believed to be the one started in Morgantown, in 1785, by James Thompson. Demands for pottery had increased as settlements grew up around the frontier forts, remote from seacoast markets and without good transportation across the mountains. pottery Even when pottery could be obtained from Baltimore, it was extremely expensive. Extensive deposits of Quaternary clay were readily accessible from the terraces of the Monongahela River, and the clay was of superior quality. At first terra-cotta china was made, followed later by stoneware with a salt glaze. When James Thompson's grandson, Greenland, died in 1890, the Morgantown pottery business ceased operation. Another pottery, the Donahue stone pottery, was built in 1866 in Parkersburg. It specialized in stoneware crocks, jugs, jars, earthenware, and flower pots, and used a 6 to 7 foot-seam of nearby Ohio River clay for the stoneware. The stoneware was distributed locally through the Ohio Valley until the operation was disbanded in the early 1900s. Newell and New Cumberland were other early chinaware centers, and other earthenware plants were located at Wheeling, Huntington, Weston, Williamstown, Mannington, Paden City, Ravenswood, and Grafton. Today there are only a few chinaware manufacturers in the State, none of which obtain clay locally, as the early potteries did. However, in recent years independent potter craftsmen have begun to experiment with local clays, as they find them plentiful, convenient, and inexpensive to use.

Another popular use of clay throughout the years has been for the manufacture of brick to be used for building, paving, tiling roofs, and as fire brick for furnaces. brick kiln The earliest West Virginia brick plant was built near New Cumberland in 1832, and bricks and fire clay were shipped to Pittsburgh and various other points along the Ohio. In 1862, gas was struck nearby, and soon it was being used for firing brick. The Standard Fire Brick Company was established in 1874 at a point called Globe, and still operates today as the Globe Refractories, Inc. Numerous other clay plants grew up near New Cumberland, using the Middle and Lower Kittanning fireclays to manufacture building brick, paving block, and sewer pipe. In 1894, many of these plants were consolidated by the Mack Manufacturing Company. The company has since changed hands several times, and it is today called the Crescent Brick Company. Both Globe Refractories and Crescent Brick produce bricks to be used for ladles in the steel industry. The extremely high fusion point of the Kittanning clay produces a good fire brick.

During the 1890s there were over 50 clay mines in the State. Today there are 6 principal operations mining clay for fire brick, building brick, clay stemming, and/or cement. However, there is great potential in West Virginia for the development of the clay industry due to the numerous underclays (associated with coals), surface clays, and shale beds.

(adapted from an article by Jane R. Eggleston, updated September 1996)

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