No. 4115 Dorchester Pottery Building, Photograph by Doris Oberg, 1965.
[Note: this reproduction of the information in the National Register Nomination Form may have typographical errors, and for technical matters, the reader may want to consult a copy of the original, which is available at the Boston Landmarks Commission or the Dorchester Historical Society. Report prepared in 1984.]
The Dorchester Pottery Works is located in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and abuts a sizeable shopping center to one side and railroad tracks to the other. The residential neighborhood across the street is largely of frame, later Victorian, single family structures. The Dorchester Pottery Works is now represented by its sole surviving structure, a brick industrial building housing the company’s monumental kiln. This kiln building has been vacant for several years and had been boarded up until its recent rehabilitation. The Works formerly included a frame industrial building that was attached to the kiln building, and the Henderson House, which was used as a residence and showroom by the proprietors of the business. Recently, both of these buildings were destroyed.
The Dorchester Pottery Works kiln house is a two-story plus clerestory, five-by-five bay, flat roofed, red brick, industrial building with a red brick chimney approximately 60-feet in height angled into its east wa11. The building is squarish in plan, measures approximately 45 feet by 49 feet, and is about 25 feet high from grade level to roof parapet. Located near the center of a deep and irregularly shaped parcel including 21,730 square feet, the kiln house was formerly attached to the rear of, the now demolished two-story frame, clapboard, industrial building which was approximately 42 feet wide by 69 feet deep and which extended up to the Victory Road street line.
Characterizing the exterior of the kiln building are its segmentally arched windows (the long first floor windows had been fitted with nine-over-nine sash which have been reconstructed after the earlier ones were totally vandalized), broad rectangular ground level entrances on the south and west sides, and concrete lintels and sills. Ornamentation is sparse and limited to the handling of the chimney with contrasting courses of yellow brick and the use of a plain brickwork cornice. Low parapet walls define the roofline on the north and south sides, and a brick roof extension on the north side allowed for the operation of an industrial pulley lift.
The interior of the building is basically an open two-story space extended by a central three-by-four bay clerestory. The second floor functions primarily as a balcony level formed by an opening that is approximately 25 1/2 feet in diameter and edged with curved bolted steel. Steel columns located towards the corners of the building carry the load of the flattened arched tile roof vaults of the second floor and clerestory. The height of the interior measures approximately 14 feet from grade to the second floor and approximately 28 1/2 feet from grade to the roof of the clerestory. . .
Dominating the interior of the building is Dorchester Pottery’s circular plan, low-domed, beehive type kiln-which occupies much of the square footage of the ground level. The kiln measures, in its dimensions, approximately 30 feet in diameter and about 12 feet in height from grade to the top of the dome. At grade, the kiln’s walls are approximately 4 feet thick and include an encasing wall about 4 feet and 9 inches in height. This outer wall houses nine firing holes and the arched entry to the kiln’s interior. The exterior walls of the kiln are girded with horizontal and vertical iron bands to allow for the proper structural expansion and contraction of the kiln during firing and cooling.
Inside, the kiln measures approximately 22 feet in diameter. The interior space is about 10 1/2 feet high under the center of the dome, marked by the location of a small air hole, and about 6 1/2 feet high near the kiln’s sides.
Brick shelving lines the inner walls of the kiln which are covered with a shiny surface formed over the years, through the escaping of vaporized glazes during firing. A grid of heat resistant tiles on the kiln’s floor permits the conduction of heat, fire, and gases through an underground flu to the chimney which protrudes out of a corner of the building.
Also included on the site of the Dorchester Pottery Works, on a small parcel of 4,303 square feet, was the Henderson House, the residence of the company’s founder and second generation owner/operators. Unfortunately, on April 12, 1980, this Queen Anne Style, clapboard, two-story plus attic, front facing gable roofed house was destroyed by fire.
The Dorchester Pottery Works is one of the few remaining examples of industrial beehive kiln construction in the country and is an intact structure documenting early twentieth-century pottery-making technology. Significant to the city, commonwealth and region, Dorchester Pottery Works possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials and workmanship. As such it meets criteria A and C of the National Register of Historic Places. In 1980 it was declared a Boston Landmark.
The Dorchester Pottery Works was founded in 1895 by George Henderson who, prior to his settlement in Dorchester, had worked in New Haven as the Manager of the S.L. Pewtress Pottery, a stoneware factory established in 1868. By 1880, Henderson ran the Pewtress works under the name of Henderson and O’Halloran.
In Dorchester, Henderson acquired a parcel of land close to the Old Colony Railroad right-of-way, on the south side of Preston Street, now Victory Road.. The immediate vicinity of this land was defined by the yet unfilled Tenean Creek and Barque Warwick Cove which separated the Commercial Point industrial area from the residential district at nearby Harrison Square. Preston Street offered Henderson convenient railroad access and close proximity to a fuel source at Cutter’s Coal Wharf just down the road at Commercial Point, as well as a location adjacent to a prestigious residential area, formerly known as Harrison Square and now known as Clam Point.
By l896, Henderson had built a Queen Anne Style frame house and, adjacent to his residence, a two-story frame industrial building which served as the Dorchester Pottery Works. This industrial building, which stood at 105 Victory Road until 1980, was initially used for the ‘”Manufacture of Dip Baskets, Butter Pots, Jugs, Jars, and Flower Pots.” “Clay Specialties and Large Pots (were) Promptly Made to Order.”
The brick kiln building, originally attached to the rear of Henderson’s frame pottery works, was built around 1914. The construction of this building and the large beehive kiln that it enclosed indicates the success of Henderson’s business and the necessity for him to accommodate a larger volume of production. Expansion of Dorchester Pottery during the first twenty years of this century resulted in the construction of several additional buildings and sheds.
Around the time of the construction of the kiln house, a second brick pottery works building was put up on an adjacent lot, formerly #12 Neva Street, an unpaved roadway running off of the south side of Preston Street, facing today’s Everdean Street, and now obliterated by the site of a modern shopping center. By the 1930’s, the Neva Street building was flanked on its north and south sides by frame additions. Dorchester Pottery’s original factory building was enlarged sometime after 1918.
After George Henderson’s death in 1928 at the age of 65, Charles Henderson and Ethel Hill Henderson, his son and daughter-in-law, assumed control over the pottery works.
This second generation of managers and operators of Dorchester Pottery also included Ethel’s brother, Charles Hill, a chemical engineer who was in charge of the glazing and later of the decoration of the company’s tableware, and Nando Ricci, an Italian potter whose family had worked for George Henderson during the pottery’s early years. Ethel Hill Henderson had been trained in all facets of stoneware pottery making by her father-in-law, and after his death was responsible for designing most of Dorchester Pottery’s production.
Stoneware, a kind of pottery fired under very high temperatures to produce vitreous wares that are extremely durable, heat and cold resistant, and able to withstand most corrosive chemical action, began to be produced in the colonies during the late seventeenth century. Although stoneware enjoys a long history in New England, it developed here later than in other areas because it could not be produced with local clays. Stoneware production in New England, therefore, did not get underway until around 1740 when transport of the requisite clay from New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania had become feasible. Although it certainly had several sources of supply, during the 1950’s and 1960’s clay for use at Dorchester Pottery was brought in from Raritan and South Amboy, New Jersey.
Until well into the 1930’s, Dorchester Pottery primarily was a producer of commercial and industrial stoneware. Dorchester Pottery supplied industry and business with vessels, acid jars, vats, pitchers, and pots, and filled innumerable orders for crocks and containers for feeds, alcoholic beverages and medicines.
Stoneware tableware was not produced by Dorchester Pottery on any significant scale until around 1940. As recently as the 1950’s, this tableware accounted for only a quarter of Dorchester’s inventory, and the mainstay of the business remained its industrial and-commercial work. It was only in the late sixties and seventies that stoneware dishes became the sole products of the company, a change in production that transformed Dorchester Pottery from a small-scale manufactory into a kind of cottage industry.
Charles Henderson died in 1967, and Ethel Hill Henderson continued running the business until her death in the early nineteen seventies. Subsequently, Lillian Yeaton (Ethel Hill Henderson’s sister) and Charles Hill ran the business with Nando Ricci. The pottery works closed in May of 1979. The present owner is Brian Burke.
Remaining on the site of the Dorchester Pottery Works is the brick industrial building located at 105 Victory Road. This building houses the pottery’s monumental brick kiln, an industrial beehive-type downdraft, periodically fired kiln, which was technologically conservative when built in 1914 by George Henderson. This kiln, reportedly constructed after Henderson’s own designs, may have been a replication of a nineteenth century type used by him in New Haven. The construction of this form of kiln, coupled with its continued productive use until its last firing in 1965, represents a living continuity of nineteenth century pottery-making technology into our own era.
Dorchester Pottery’s kiln is of further significance because it is probably one of the few remaining industrial beehive types in the country. In northeast Ohio, for example, where the ceramic, brick-making and pottery trades accounted, by 1910, for over forty percent of this country’s production, only three extant kilns of this type remain. In addition, beehive kilns were most commonly designed as exterior structures and were not housed inside of buildings. Furthermore, beehive kilns were generally used for brick manufacture, a process that does not require particularly high temperature firings. Dorchester Pottery’s kiln therefore is important not only for its survival and uses as an example of late nineteenth – early twentieth century pottery-making technology but because it is unusual for its use in the production of stoneware which required high firings at 2,300 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Strongly demonstrating Dorchester Pottery’s involvement in an early technology is the company’s continued practice, until the 1960’s, of using an industrial kiln that had to be fired with coal and wood. During the 1920’s, when the company employed 28 potters, the kiln was fired monthly. Later on, in the fifties and sixties, the kiln was fired only four times a year. The process of loading, firing, cooling, and unloading the kiln took about two weeks, with the actual firing requiring fifty to sixty hours of constant attendance. After forty hourly firings brought the temperatures up to about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, regular fifteen minute firings were necessary to raise the heat to the higher temperatures needed for the vitrification of glazes. Estimates of the amount of fuel required indicate the firing consumed about fifteen tons of coal and four cords of wood. Because the interior of the kiln was an inferno of heat and flame, wares being fired were protected from scorching by crockery covers called saggers.
The last firing of Dorchester Pottery’s ki1n was in 1965. Gas-fired kilns were used briefly after the beehive was retired, but eventually the company installed electric kilns which were used for tableware production.
Dorchester Pottery’s stoneware production currently enjoys a high reputation both for its continued reliance on traditional pottery-making methods and for the straightforward aesthetic of its tableware. Although this country has undergone a considerable revival of interest in craftsmanship over the last few decades, and the hand working of tableware is becoming a more usual occurrence, Dorchester Pottery is unusual in that it utilized a technology based on handcrafting for its commercial, institutional, and industrial orders as late as the 1950’s and 1960’s. Despite the use of plaster molds in the production of its industrial or commercial work, potters and not machines turned, manipulated, and raised the clay, produced the glazes, and executed the detailing and ornamentation.
Tableware produced at the Dorchester Pottery Works always has been in great demand by local collectors, but recently wider recognition has been coming from scholars in the ceramics and decorative arts fields. Distinguished by its sturdy traditional forms, and its characteristic Cobalt blue glazing on white, grey, or buff, this tableware is often ornamented with decorative elements that include blueberry, pinecone, scroll, pussy willow, floral fruit, and striped motifs. Sometimes special orders of Dorchester Pottery tableware pieces were ornamented with bayberry green or golden-toned glazes. Complete sets of dinnerware were crafted by the firm, and in the 1950s the Hendersons made claim to producing approximately 1,700 different kinds of pottery.
Because of the proliferation of Dorchester Pottery buildings during the first decades of the century, and because of the standard practice at potteries to maintain a dump, there remains a strong probability for unearthing examples of the business’s early production, equipment, and tools through on-site digs.
Boston Landmarks Commission, Dorchester Pottery Works Study Report, 1980.
Boston Redevelopment Authority, “Dorchester, Fields Corner District Profile”. 1979 Brady, Phillip, “Dorchester Stoneware Pottery Last in America”, Boston Sunday Globe, November 6, 1955, 73.
Bromley, George W. Atlas of Boston, Vol.5: Dorchester. Philadelphia, 1884, 1894, 1898, 1904, 1910, 1918, 1933.
Doucette, Russell, (Ceramics’ Department, Massachusetts College of Art) Conversation regarding the Dorchester Pottery Works. April 15, 1980.
Evans, Paul. “Stoneware and the Dorchester Pottery”, Western Collector, May, 1968,
Gates, William. (Curator, East Liverpool Museum of Ceramics, Ohio) Conversation regarding beehive kilns, April 17, 1980.
Kovel, Ralph and Terry. The Kovel’s Collector’s Guide to American Art Pottery. New York, 1974.
Loveday, Amos. (Ohio Historical Center, Columbus, Ohio) Conversation regarding beehive kilns. April 14, 1980.
Michael, George. The Treasury of New England Antiques. New York, 1969.
Myer, Susan. (Ceramics Department, Smithsonian Institution). Conversation regarding beehive kilns. April 15, 1980.
Oberg, Doris. Conversation regarding the Dorchester Pottery Works, subject of illustrated lecture. April 17, 1980.
Pollan, Rosalind. “Harrison Square Report.” Boston Landmarks Commission Project Completion Report, July 1979.
Ray, Marcia. An Encyclopedia of Pottery and Porcelain for the American Collector. New York, 1974.
Roueche, Berton, “Reporter At Large, The Last Lap”, The New Yorker, March 13, 1954.
Slade, Marilyn Myers. “For a Legend, (Dorchester Pottery), A New Life?” Boston Herald Magazine, October 12, 1979.
United States Department of Commerce. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. The Pottery Industry. Washington, D.C., 1915.
Watkins, Laura Woodside. Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1950.
Dorchester Pottery Works, Ward 16, Assessor’s parcel numbers 245 and 246.
Beginning at the northwest corner of the property and running easterly along the southern curb line of 101-105 Victory Road; thence turning at a right angle and running south along the side lot line of said property; thence turning at a right angle and running westerly along the back lot line of 101-105 Victory Road; thence turning at a right angle and running northerly, then northwesterly along the side lot line of 97 Victory Road until the point of origin.