Updated: May 30
Clay deposits found along Whitewater Creek made pottery and brick making some of the early industries in Whitewater. The pottery made from Whitewater clays was called earthenware or redware. Earthenware pottery is very fragile as it was only fired clay with light glazes. On the other hand, stoneware is made from higher quality clay not found in Wisconsin. Stoneware was hard fired and more durable than earthenware. The related industry of brick making coincided with the boom in pottery production in Whitewater from the 1840s into the 20th Century.
The four potteries of Whitewater produced earthenware for various needs and uses. The Whitewater Historical Society’s Depot Museum of Local History has a collection of a variety of these earthenware containers on display. Whitewater pottery, like most other earthenware pottery produced in the same time period, was rarely, if ever, signed or stamped by the creator and much of Whitewater pottery is undecorated. Some storage containers, such as jugs and crocks, were sometimes marked with a number showing how many gallons each piece would hold. Whitewater’s few potteries produced vast amounts of earthenware containers and they were glazed using lead from southwestern Wisconsin’s lead region.
Warren Cole opened the first pottery in Whitewater in 1846 on the northwest corner of North St. and Fremont St. George G. Williams became a partner in 1847 and the two moved the pottery to just south of the Depot on James St. William Hunter and Warren Cole owned the pottery from 1859 to November 30, 1867 when it was burned down. Cole & Hunter’s pottery was insured for $3,000, cited as half its value, and the fire left only the small office building standing.
Michael Ohnhaus and his partner John Milz opened a pottery in 1859 between Summit St. and Whiton St. that produced earthenware pottery for about six or seven years. Ohnhaus and various other potters ran the pottery south of the depot on James St. following the fire and subsequent renovation by Dan Cole, though he never owned the business. Ohnhaus also produced drainage tile alongside the earthenware manufactured at this pottery. Creating pottery, tiles, and bricks were very similar trades because they all used the same materials and methods for manufacturing the finished product.
Brick making began in Whitewater on May 1, 1841 by William Wood. This brickyard was located near the James St. pottery south of the Depot. In the first kiln there were 40,000 bricks produced. Another brickyard was open in 1847 near Cravath St. just east of Jefferson St. owned by George Dann. Dann’s company also produced earthenware pottery for a brief period. A third brickyard was opened in 1853 by Albert Kendall west of Fremont near Pratt St. (now Starin Rd.). Nearby, A. Y. Chamberlin opened a brickyard that produced both brick and drainage tile. In 1879 Joseph Dann and Edward Roethe also opened a brickyard north of Cravath St., which Dann owned until 1891. It was purchased by Charles Martin and closed for good in 1893. The last brickyard in Whitewater opened in 1903. Owned by the Whitewater Brick and Tile company, it was located east of the water works pumping station by the creek. It operated into the mid-20th century primarily making drain tile.
*If using this article, please cite: Leah Penzkover, “Whitewater Pottery,” 2015, Whitewater Historical Society website, Whitewater, WI.