Living in a small town is easy. The drive to the post office, bank or small grocery store/gas station is about seven minutes or 2 1/2 miles. It is a beautiful drive . . . it looks a lot like the drawing of The Ohio Company. In Amesville, there are no traffic lights. There is very little traffic. There are very few residents; around 150-200 lucky people live here.
Warwick China Company enjoyed a long history – over sixty years producing decorative pieces, fine dinnerware and finally, vitrified china. According to their catalog ca. 1940s, they produced “Vitrified China for Hotels, Clubs, Restaurants, Institutions, Steamships, Railroads, and Hospitals.” No doubt, their entry into china production for commercial accounts was one way in which the Warwick China Company hoped to keep the kilns firing and so many residents of Wheeling employed. After all, Wheeling was one of the great manufacturing centers in the nineteenth century. Sadly, this manufacturer closed in doors in 1951.
Warwick had produced some of the most beautiful china – highly decorated and complex pieces. They were one of the few American potteries to attempt the manufacture of flow blue. Their expertise was well known in the pottery world. Wheeling of course possessed all of the natural assets necessary to produce, market and ship wares. The chamber of commerce of Wheeling announced that Wheeling was at the crossroads for manufacturing and shipping. Most American pottery was manufactured in the Ohio Valley along the mighty Ohio River. And as a consequence, Wheeling certainly played an important part in the history of Ohio River Pottery.
Almost, thirty years ago, a package arrived postmarked from the Homer Laughlin Company, Newell, West Virginia quite unexpectedly. A few days before, we were at the International Housewares Exhibition in Chicago. It was a big deal, a really big deal. Now, as then, it was the biggest trade show in the country at one of the biggest exhibition halls in the world under one roof. McCormick Place, a modernist structure designed by Gene Simmons, a student of Mies van der Rohe, is located on Lake Michigan. Sited as it was, the rebuilt McCormick place celebrated space perched on the coast with an unending vista of water and sky – the building occupies acres of land yet does not obstruct the view like a skyscraper while the interior remains open. Stepping into that place was a tad intimidating for a fledgling very small business owner but, how else to know what is happening?
One of the hundreds of exhibitors was The Homer Laughlin Company represented by a Mr. Wells. He was very generous with his time; he welcomed us into the booth heartily. As we spoke, the conversation turned to patterns. The new line of colorful Fiesta Ware was popular, but I gravitated toward a pure white plate with a deep rim, scalloped edge and classic ornamentation. It was very modern looking – but not. The plate was a part of the Best China Line i.e.. Restaurant Ware.
He asked, “Why would you want this plate?” Later informing me that he could not sell this plate to a retail outlet unless we could order large quantities. His warmth and kindliness made the bad news sound not so bad. Three days later, the plate arrived.
For many years, this plate was part of the lore of our family. . . the story was, “a manager from Homer Laughlin sent this plate.” The plate packed a powerful message; generosity and kindness. This story remains one of the most important business lessons that I have learned. Over the years, the pleasant memory inspired a collection of white restaurant ware. It has been a sentimental journey from that memorable beginning.
Years later, I learned that the history of the Homer Laughlin Company was integral to understanding the history of Ohio River Pottery. As it turned out, Mr. Wells was not merely a manager or salesperson. His family owned and operated the Homer Laughlin Company. The Wells family led an expansion of the pottery. By the end of the nineteenth century, five kilns produced white ware instead of the much maligned yellow ware produced throughout the nineteenth century.
Laced thought out early accounts of the Pottery Industry, there are comments made by workers, observers and reporters. Most commentators noticed the mutual respect that owners shared with workers – mutual respect become one of the core values for the Homer Laughlin Company and the other potteries in East Liverpool. So, it was no accident that Mr. Wells sent the plate that he could sell.
Back in the day, when we were in college in Kirksville, a young man from Brooklyn moved into our neighborhood. It was his first time outside of a city. We did the best we could to calm him – even though there was no McDonalds, even though there were no buses, department stores, big restaurants . . . even though it was not the city, certainly, once he started class, he would find friends, good times and settle in to this new place. As fate would have it, the very next morning, a few hogs escaped the livestock auction and barreled across the neighborhood yards. He was unnerved – really – in part, because he had not been able to sleep because it was too quiet. The hogs, well, they were the last straw. He gave us all of his groceries and caught the next plane back to New York.
I love New York, it is exhilarating! But my spirit is ignited by the small, lets say very small town that I live in. You might be thinking, a one-stoplight kind of place. But no, there is no stoplight nor stop sign for thru traffic. So, I suppose, we would define Amesville as a no stoplight town. And that is just fine with everyone that I know that calls this place home.
Amesville was founded late in the eighteenth century when the new republic found a way to remunerate the army that fought for independence. Men and women rode the flatboats from Pittsburg to Marietta and claimed their fifty acres. Many came with big ideas – they built ocean going vessels in a little town near Amesville. But they settled in to a rolling landscape that reminded them of their old homes in New England. The countryside remains bucolic and quiet, very quiet. And when I need a few things from the grocery, I travel the two miles to Amesville for cream and milk from a small creamery, free-range eggs from a local farm – and even homemade granola. I do not wait in line, I am back home in minutes. If I need to go to the bank – I am first in line all the time. If I need to go to the post office, again, chances are good that I am the lone customer. The short drive often, brings tears to my eyes, but I am very sentimental. There is no other place on earth that I want to live.
I have no idea why I could make the jump from growing up in a big city like Chicago and settle in to this quiet place. I toss and turn at night when I visit a city. – it is so noisy. The lights from cars on the road way traveling across the bedroom ceiling . . . it is unnerving. Nonetheless, every now and again, I crave the excitement of the city, really need to breathe in all the life on the streets. But when you believe that you live in a paradise, then all you really need to do is open your eyes to see all that there is in a new light. Now that is a good place to live!
And work! Our barn opens up over a beautiful valley – a barn with a view! At the end of May, we will open up the doors for our Barn Sale. You are invited, of course, and we will get more information out later. It is worth the drive and you never know what you will find!