Saw sign on back of truck, “Technical animal fat. Not for human
consumption.” Never seen a sign that says ”Technical peanut
JAMES EDWARD BROWN
Called “Edward” by the family and “Ed” by most everyone else, Dad was born
in Sterrett, Alabama, in 1917, the oldest of Davis and Ella Brown’s 5 children -
one of which died as a child.
When Dad was born, Grandpa (Davis Pennington Brown) was turning at one of
the potteries in Sterrett - a major pottery center, or “jugtown”, for many
years in Alabama. Later, Grandpa and the family would return to Georgia and
settle in the Atlanta area where many of the family members had lived and
worked for years. One of the places he, and other family members, worked
was the Rose Distillery, maker of 4 Roses Bourbon, turning jugs for their
Dad, of course, went where the family went and, in 1925, when Dad was 7
years old, Grandpa moved to Arden, NC, about halfway between Asheville and
Hendersonville. It was here that Dad spent his life until he joined the Navy
after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
He was there when the original shop was “Brown Brothers Pottery” and they
were grinding clay with a mule. He was there when the brothers left and
Grandpa moved just down the road to an old house and started Brown’s
Pottery. And he was there to help build and then work in the “new” shop,
built in 1939 - 40.
Ruger and Company of New York City sold all types of cooking items, including
the French style earthenware that were glazed on the inside only. Due to the
submarine threat in the Atlantic during WWII, Ruger could not get their
product from France so the “new” shop in Arden was set up to produce these
items. They also continued to produce a large amount of the handmade items
they had been making for years.
Although the straight sided and flat bottomed items of this product were hand
turned, the rounded bottomed items, the lids and some of the handles were
produced either on one of the two jigger machines in the shop or cast. The
shop had a whole section set up for the molds for the jigger machines and for
casting and the vat, large tank and pumps for the slip that was used.
After WWII, Dad returned to Arden and the shop which, during the war, was
working 22 people. (Many years later, when Grandpa was working the shop
by himself, he would say he got a days work done every 22 days.) After the
war, Ruger could once again get their cooking ware from France, at a lower
price, so the production of the shop fell markedly.
The pottery industry was taking a huge hit as glass containers and tin cans
became commonplace most everywhere. No longer were the crocks, churns,
pitchers and other items that were the backbone of the industry needed and
most potters struggled to make the change to what was known as “art ware”.
The time after WWII brought another major change - many of the returning
men and women from war had seen the World and were not content to settle
back home and pick up the jobs in not only the potteries but work on the
farms and many of the other jobs that they and their families had been doing
for years. It was a most important turning point for the World, the U.S. and
for the pottery industry. The “Industrial Revolution”, which had been
underway before the war, exploded from the industries that had been
developed for the war effort. New opportunities presented themselves -
usually not in the local areas - and many of those returning took advantage of
Unlike many, Dad stayed working in the shop but when payday came there
always seemed to be pay for everyone but family. With a family of his own to
support, Dad went to work at American Enka Corp at night and worked at the
shop in the daytime. Not only was he not getting paid at the shop but he was
even giving money to the family out of his Enka pay. I remember Dad talking
about taking his little Sister, Ruth, to the company store to buy her shoes and
cloths for school. He was making $7.00 a week and Mom, who had been
working during the war at a department store in Asheville, was making $6.00
In 1946, a Mr. Church from Valdese, NC, came to the shop looking for
someone to come down to Connelly Springs to finish setting up a pottery - the
Old Henry Pottery. He had brought Macgruder Bishop up from Georgia to build
the pottery but he went back to Georgia before it was finished.
Dad moved the family to Connelly Springs and completed the shop - put in the
equipment to grind clay, built two potters wheels, put in two flower pot
machines and brought Grandpa down to help him build a kiln.
But here he ran into the problem of all potteries at the time - the lack of
skilled potters to turn. Anyone could be taught to grind the clay and run the
flower pot machines but the skilled people needed to hand turn the other
items was in short supply and the few available were getting up in age.
Before the war, many of the sons of potters would have followed in their
families footsteps but now they went on to occupations that paid more and
were less work.
Uncle Jay (Evan Javan Brown, Dad’s Uncle) would come in and turn once in a
while and a few other potters as well but keeping the help needed to run the
shop proved a serious problem.
For the few years Old Henry was in operation it produced a large amount of
ware, especially flower pots, and brought in some serious money. The
agreement Dad had with Mr. Church was that they were partners but, once
again, when payday came, it seemed there was little money left. I remember
Mom and Dad talking about it at night. It became clear that things were not
going to work out. For that reason, and the fact that Grandpa kept after Dad
to come back to Arden to help in the shop, we returned to the mountains.
But it had been Dad’s dream to have an “Art ware” pottery - making the
brightly colored and decorative items that were becoming popular, especially
by the tourist. For that reason, when a Mr. Jennings from Clay City, Alabama -
just outside of Fairhope - came and ask Dad to come and run a pottery there,
Dad jumped at the chance.
The small pottery was set up next to the large brick yard Mr. Jennings ran at
Clay City, on the edge of the Fish River. It was ideal for what Dad wanted but
in the end, being so far off the beaten path, it would not support an Art Ware
pottery. We returned to Arden once again where Dad continued working,
supporting the family still a serious problem.
Charles Lynch, a friend of Dads, was in the TAR program of the Naval Reserve
in Asheville. Although most reservist only went to meetings and spent two
week each year on active duty, the members of the TAR program were on duty
full time taking care of the training centers and ships that were used by the
other reservist. Charlie had been trying to get Dad to join and when the
Korean Was started, Dad went back into the Navy in the TAR program. He was
first stationed at the Asheville Training center and for the period of time he
was there he helped at the shop at nights and on weekends.
Later, Dad was transferred to a training ship in Charleston, SC. Mom and I
remained in Arden and Dad would come home on weekends as he could. With
this transfer to Charleston, it was the last time Dad would be involved in
He would later be transferred to a training ship in Miami, Florida, and from
there to Bayonne, NY and then to Memphis, Tennessee Naval Air Station after
which he would retire from the Navy, after 23 years of service.
At this time, Charlie Lynch was the Financial Director for Metropolitan Dade
County and he had been trying to get Dad to retire and come down to Miami
for several years and take a job with Metro. Dad said he would on two
conditions - he wanted a job with no people to manage and no responsibility.
During this time period, Florida had automobile inspection stations and Charlie
got him a job working at one of the stations in Homestead, just south of
Miami. A year or so later, Dad had been promoted to head of all the stations
in Dade County, a job he would keep until he again retired.
I had moved on to Navy flight training and was stationed at the Naval Air
Station, North Island, in San Diego, California, with VS-25, a part of the air
group of the USS Yorktown. Mom and Dad retired to Drayton Island, a small
island in the middle of the St. John’s River south of Palatka, Florida. Dad died
there in 1993.
BROWN’S POTTERY -
from the inside