Newell Became Pottery Center Early In 1900s
From the Evening Review, Friday, July 2, 1976
Newell has always been a pottery town, and its history is closely linked with names like Laughlin, Wells and Knowles and factors such as corporation taxes, tunnel kiln and tariff levels.
A glance across the years brings a nostalgic memory of the Rush Grocery Store at 5th and Washington, the Gates Butcher Shop in the Rauh Building, the first summer of social functions at the new Kenilworth Country Club and the steady construction of new homes.
School was being held in the Aaron Building, where the Presbyterian congregation was worshipping.
And humming along the river was the giant Homer Laughlin China Co Plant No 4 – the world’s largest and most modern pottery and the nucleus of the mushrooming pottery move from East Liverpool.
William Hamilton settled along the river in 1796 and laid out Hamilton Town, a tiny village which existed during the 1800s south of the site of Newell. William Chapman had settled in 1785 near New Cumberland, the same year Jacob Nessly settled on Tomlinson run.
In 1800 Hugh Pugh and his family, originally from New Jersey, moved from Burgettstown, Pa., to a 400 acre tract in the heart of the upper part of the county, launching the community of Pughtown or Fairview or New Manchester. This village, along with Georgetown, Pa., was one of the larger communities in the district during the early part of the 19th century and served as the Hancock County seat for many years.
One of the early settlers at Pughtown was John Newell, a tanner, whose son, Hugh Newell, became the owner of the site where now more than 2000 people reside. Hugh was born Sept. 16, 1827, at Pughtown, and in 1858 was married to Alizan Marks, a daughter of Sam Marks, who resided at Rock Springs, later the site of the Chester amusement park.
Hugh Newell, a farmer widely known throughout the area, moved in 1886 to the old stone house in Chester. He died June 15, 1904, while attending the funeral of an old friend in East Liverpool.
Among the earlier settlers in Grant District were Samuel Baxter, 1798; William Hutson, near Hamilton Town, 1808; William Mercer, 1823; James Allison on the road between Pughtown and the East Liverpool crossing, 1800, and William Rodgers, 1795, killed and mutilated by Indians in 1796, while out hunting wayward cattle.
The chief occupation of the district was farming, although early in the 19th Century, clay and coal deposits of the valley began receiving notice. About 1830, Thomas Freeman began to dig clay at the mouth of Holbert’s Run, south of New Cumberland, for shipment to Pittsburgh where bricks were made.
James S. Porter, realizing the potential value of the county shore where clay, wood and coal sources were close together, began making bricks at the site. Brick manufacture spread, and soon the keel boats were hauling loads up to Pittsburgh iron and steel mills and flatboats carried the bricks to Wheeling.
Hancock County was formed from the upper end of Brooke County in January 1848, and a close election established the county sear at New Manchester (Fairview) instead of New Cumberland. A brick courthouse was built in 1850.
Six school districts were formed in 1848 with Squire John Gardner as supervisor of the district in the north.
The first county school probably was started in 1811-12 in a log house near Smiths Mill, taught by W. H. Grafton. Charles Stewart taught at a cabin near Nessly’s Mill in 1826, and Mark McGarven taught in 1911 in a cabin near the Allison residence.
In 1864, with the formation of the new state of West Virginia which separated from Virginia over the Civil War issues, elections were held with Jonathan Allison as supervisor for Grant District, James Hewitt as justice of the peace and Charles Allison as constable.
With the establishment of a free school system in West Virginia in 1863, five schools were created in Grant District – Hamiltontown School (now Congo), the “Pottery School” at the present site of Newell, Washington, Brooklyn and Franklin School.
The “Pottery School” – so termed because of its proximity to a pottery at the north end of the town – was used until 1890 when it was abandoned and area pupils went to classes at Chester.
The site of Newell continued as a farm district and was noted chiefly as a ferry terminus operated by the Todd family to Jethro Hollow, and later operated by the Newell family.
After the middle of the century, a yellow ware plant was built near the end of the present Newell Bridge by Curtis and James Larkins and William Thompson. It was forced to suspend operation, however.
Some older residents recall a pottery built by Trenton, N. J. men, which was later torn down between 1864 and 1880 and the bricks carried skiffs across the river for construction of a year and five months. [sic]
About 1891 a Pittsburgh syndicate headed by William F. Lloyd took options on the farms of John Newell, J. Bentley Newell, William McDonald and land of a Wells family, known as the Murray tract, and a Moore tract. The syndicate planned the development of the area for an industrial site.
However, the future of the tract was being studied with more determination and business knowhow by a group of men in East Liverpool, headed by the leaders in the Homer Laughlin China Co.
These potters were alert to the expanding market for mass produced dinnerware, and had been enlarging the Laughlin firm in East Liverpool since it was sold by the Homer Laughlin in 1896 to the Marcus and Louis Aragon group of Pittsburgh.
The West Virginia tract held high promise – it was one of the few large flat areas suitable for a giant factory and a community of workers, it was on the river and it was in a state with lower taxes than Ohio.
The late James Newell and the Hill brothers invested in the property which was purchased later by the North American Manufacturing Co., after he and the Hills had laid out the townsite.
Heading the North American Manufacturing syndicate was Louis Aaron of Pittsburgh, president of the Homer Laughlin China Co., and Joseph G. Lee, secretary and general manager of the Knowles, Taylor and Knowles Co. of East Liverpool and member of the Taylor, Lee and Smith Co, of Chester.
Preliminary surveys were launched in 1903 for a much needed bridge to provide a link with the town site then reached only by way of the ferryboat, “Ollie Neville.”
Work on the $250,000 span began in 1904. It was constructed in 13 months, a shorter time than the Chester span, which was built in a year and five months.
First excavations for the approaches and abutments for the bridge was started June 2, 1904 and the first crossing was made July 4, 1905.
Cables on the Newell Bridge were strung in the middle of winter while cables on the other spans were strung in summer. E. K. Morse, noted area river engineer, was in charge of the work done by the Penn Bridge Co. of Beaver Falls.
The bridge construction marked the start of a three year period of intense building on the south bank of the Ohio River.
Besides the work on the bridge, work was under way on Dam No. 8, part of a series of locks and dams designed to bring the river to a 9 ft depth for year round navigation and construction continued on the new pottery and homes in Newell along with the public utility projects such as roadways, water systems and streetcar lines.
On July 14, 1905, the North American firm invited more than 100 businessmen and professionals to cross the new bridge, over which two tracks had been laid, and to visit the new town site.
Fred B. Lawrence, superintendent of the firm, was in charge of the trip across the river, during which the visitors found Washington St. laid 70 feet wide for future heavy traffic and men already preparing a golf course, tennis courts and a baseball field west of the ravine. They also visited picturesque Laurel Hollow and its crystal spring, and traveled up to Virginia Terrace.
In 1929, and 83 foot well was dug near the main office of the Laughlin plant to supplement the water supply of the town and industries, and in 1941 a similar porous concrete well was dug – both of them 200 feet from the river bank.
Water from the 30 inch diameter wells is not derived from the river, but from natural drainage along rock strata from the hills, providing the town with clear water which needs only chlorination.
During 1906 work was pushed on the giant pottery, 600 feet long and 300 feet wide, designed to employ 1,200, with electric power and separate motors for each machine. And construction of homes also was being hurried.
In June 1906 there were only a few isolated houses standing out in relief against the woods behind, but by December 1907 about 130 homes had been built, and the population of the town stood at 700.
The brown brick Rauh Building, constructed earlier was headquarters for the North American firm, but with the completion of the white brick fireproof Aaron Building in 1907, the firm moved into the new structure across 5th St.
The year 1907 marked the real birth of the town in many ways. Besides the organization of the volunteer firemen that year, the Presbyterian Church was organized in October and given recognition by the Wheeling Presbytery in December 1907. The Rev. E. B. Townsend was pastor for the group, which worshipped in the school rooms in the Aaron Building.
Newell students were transferred from Chester school in 1906 to a one-room building at 2nd and Washington Sts as the town began to grow.
Later, classes were divided with upper grades sent to a new two-story brick building at 6th and Harrison Sts, built in 1906 by John Swindells and Fred Owen and which later housed the Tim Robinson newsstand.
In about 1907 classes were transferred to the second floor of the Aaron Building, where the 115 pupils were under the supervision of Manley Combs, principal, and Joseph Hoy and Miss Martha Shutter.
In 1912, the Fourth St. School was constructed to house elementary and secondary classes and in 1927 the Wells High School building was completed for the secretary classes.
The Jefferson School for lower grades was built in 1950 and first used in 1951.
A portable building was erected beside the Fourth St. School to accommodate classes prior to the construction of the high school. It was later moved to the Washington School District.
The first child born in the town was a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Doganier. Her birth date was Nov. 11, 1906, and she became Mrs. Delores Semian.
Mrs. Sarah K. Rush was appointed postmistress June 1, 1906, and the first post office was at her home at 6th and Grant Sts. In the spring of 1907 it was moved to larger quarters at her store.
Dr. Harry Turk began the first drugstore in the town, which was taken over shortly afterward by G. J. Stewart in the Rauh Building. In 1921 Stewart sold out to Sam Carnahan who came over from East Liverpool.
Fred Owens, who moved to Newell in 1906, was the town’s first Justice of the Peace, and Sam Rardin and his brother were among the early teamsters who dug most of the cellars for the new homes.
Dr. V. E. McEldowney began his practice in Newell in 1924, and Dr. J. E. Hall has been practicing in the area for many years. Other physicians who served in Newell at times included Dr. M. R. Herford in the 1920’s, Dr. Guilford in the 1930’s and Dr. Frank Ikert in the 1940’s.
The Methodist Church was built in 1912, and the Church of the Nazarene and the Church of Christ were constructed about eight years later.
Besides the giant Laughlin firm, other companies – large and small – were included in the growing industrial and business pattern of the community. The Kenilworth Tile Co. was added and the Dawson Copper Shop was built east of the new pottery site to provide casks and barrels for the shipping of dinnerware.
The Lake Newell Floral Co. was launched beside the artificial lake in Laurel Hollow Park, which was developed as a recreation area for picnicking, movies and a zoo which was to attract hundreds of visitors for many years.
Laurel Hollow first was launched as a picnic site and park in 1905 with the completion of the bridge and streetcar lines. Construction of benches, tables and swings drew crowds of Ohio residents, and as early as July 1905 an orchestra was playing at the site.
The area was landscaped, various parts cleared out by blasting and a dam built in 1906 for the artificial lake. The park boasted the first open air theater at which some older residents can recall seeing “motion pictures” as early as 1907. Mrs. Abe Edwards played piano for the movies and other stage shows.
The chief amusements were the monkeys, bears and seals, along with the other zoo animals. In 1909 one bear killed another in the park bear pits, and a barking seal was sent to the Highland Park Zoo at Pittsburgh after causing trouble.
World War I marked the end of the Kenilworth Country Club, started in 1905. The clubhouse, tennis courts and golf links near Laurel Park were the center of social life of the town.
The park and golf course became the site of the new high school and homes, and the north end was filled to provide the roadway for Washington St. and Route 66.
In August 1905, surveyors had begun laying the foundation lines for the mammoth Homer Laughlin Co pottery along the river front site. The million dollar structure – 664 feet long and 300 feet wide – had 30 kilns – 13 biscuit and 17 gloss – besides 24 decorating kilns.
By 1907 Homer Laughlin Plant No. 4 was finished and had gone into production, the biggest pottery in the world, and the firm’s offices were moved across the river.
In 1913, a 15-kiln pottery structure, Plant No 5, was built linking the original giant pottery and that same year, the Edwin M. Knowles co., which had a 6-kiln pottery at Chester, built a new 15 kiln plant at Newell.
These plants, although the most modern of their type, used the upright beehive kiln. In 1923, however, Laughlin built Plant No 6 – a revolutionary pottery construction in that it employed a tunnel kiln, for the entire manufacture process – a capacity of 15 ordinary kilns.
Although the new plant was quite a gamble for the firm, within six months it had proven successful and was turning out ware of a better grade than possible with the older upright kilns in which the heat distribution was unequal.
A new decorating kiln which was built after the construction of Plant 6 was an automatic gas-fired kiln which also proved a success after some modification. Completion was delayed when an engineer unfamiliar with the properties of natural gas, let the feed valve on for some time before igniting the gas and the explosion settled the roof of the kiln.
In 1926, Plant No 7 – a duplicate of Plant No 5 – was constructed to meet the expanding market for dinner ware. The remaining plants in the East End, still using upright kilns, were found to be outmoded. They were abandoned in 1929, and another large structure, Plant No 8 raised at Newell.
Between 1924 and 1927 the company had changed over its Plants 4 and 5, replacing the upright kilns with tunnel kilns. Further mechanization featured the expanding pottery, including spray glazing of flatware, conveyor belts, automatic jiggering and automatic cup forming. Lining machines and stamping machines took over some of the duties of the longtime craftsmen.
Employment at the large pottery rose at times as high as 3,200, but on the average, the working force was closer to 1500.
The growth of the Laughlin firm to a ranking leader in the pottery industry took place under the direction of William E. Wells, secretary, treasurer and general manager and Marcus Aaron, president. Wells began for work for Homer Laughlin in 1889, coming to East Liverpool from Steubenville.
Wells and Aaron took over the leadership of the pottery when Laughlin incorporated the firm and sold his holdings to the Aaron syndicate. For more than 40 years, Wells was an active leader in the policies not only of the Laughlin firm but of the general pottery industry in America.
In January 1930, he retired, being succeeded by his son, Joseph M. Wells, and Aaron became chairman of the board. His son, M. L. Aaron, became president. W. E. Wells died in 1931.
Joseph M. Wells died in 1970, and his son, Joseph M. Wells Jr. now heads the management.
The Edwin M. Knowles Co. plant moved from Chester in 1913, and for many years ranked high in the pottery field.
The pottery closed down in 1963, and the plant was purchased in 1966 by the Ohio Brass Co, headquartered at Barberton, to meet the need for expanded production of porcelain insulators.
In 1934, the defunct plant of the Kenilworth Tile Co. – burned and rebuilt in 1919 – was taken over by the New Castle Refractories Co., partly due to the demand for saggers which came with the decline of the upright kilns.
Prior to the advent of tunnel kilns, each pottery made its own saggers, but with the establishment of the new kilns and the demand for cast saggers, the New Castle firm started its plant and area potteries closed their sagger shops, the workers going to the new firm.
In 1945, with market call for saggers, New Castle also installed a tunnel kiln, and new employs about 150.
The Metsch Refractories was founded at Newell in 1919 in a building at 3rd and Harrison sts., which had housed the Electrical Refractories, a firm now located at East Palestine.
The Metsch firm continued at that location until 1957 when fire damaged the firm and it relocated in the old Continental Kiln Co. structure at Chester.
Establishment of Waterford Park at nearby Arroyo in 1951 brought new business and more residents to Newell.
Newell today has an estimated 2,600 residents and 800 homes. It has a Lions Club involved in community service and an energetic veterans organization in American Legion Post 114, and the volunteer firemen, leaders of the community functions.
Supplementing the civic responsibilities are the various women’s clubs and the auxiliary of the American Legion.
The town lacks room for any large-scale industrial or residential expansion, although Newell Heights provides ample sites for homes. However, Newell, with its large pottery production capacity, will be a steadfast center of industry for years to come. And as a link in the growing industrial program of the Ohio Valley, the town faces the future with the continued promise of its early boom days.
Contributed by Cookie Sisco