Archaeologists unearth kiln site of pioneer master potter

Published June 19, 2009 8:17 pm
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In 1852, Thomas Davenport fired up a kiln in southern Utah's first pioneer settlement and started making pottery and crockery that slowly spread through the West along with his reputation as a craftsman.

The old site in Parowan, where Davenpoprt manufactured the clay pieces, is being excavated now by a team from Michigan Technological University led by a associate professor who has been studying Davenport and his work for the past 10 years.

Timothy Scarlett said the site is significant in understanding the artisans and industry of the West and culture of pioneers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who settled in the area.

"They formed a cultural group unique to the world," said Scarlett, who has a doctorate in archaeology.

Since May 11, Scarlett and a team of students from the Michigan school have been methodically unearthing foundations of structures and a kiln in a vacant lot in the town, taking time out to talk to the curious who visit the dig.

The team will cover the dig site by next week and head into the laboratory to further study what they collected, which consists more of pottery shards rather than complete pieces.

Scarlett said he became interested in Davenport by reading about county history, studying plat maps and touring the site 10 years ago with one of Davenport's great-granddaughters.

He said Davenport traveled with his wife and children to Utah in 1851 from Derbyshire, England, where Davenport worked molding pieces in a pottery factory. Once in Salt Lake City, he was sent to Parowan to produce pottery, which was no simple task.

Scarlett said it took Davenport about seven years to perfect his technique in firing and glazing his pottery.

Scarlett said Davenport's first attempts failed when his pottery cracked or melted. He eventually found the correct formula, probably from talking to other potters or to American Indians in the area.

"By the time he died in 1888, he was making beautiful bowls, table ware and jugs," said Scarlett.

But Davenport was known best for the crockery he produced. The crockery pieces were in demand for preserving food and in separating milk from cream once a cow had been milked.

Jessica Montcalm, a graduate student doing her master's thesis on the site, said the kiln was eventually dismantled and area covered with soil for farming.

She said covering the site and relatively dry climate helped preserve it.

On Friday, one of the visitors to the site was Beverly Adams-Pendleton, a great-great-granddaughterof Davenport's who came with an image of his house that once stood on the property burned into a piece of wood.

"I think it's wonderful," she said of the digging effort. "To find these kilns is amazing, [the pioneers] deserve all the attention."

She said eight generations of Davenport descendants live in Parowan and the surrounding communities, many owning pieces of his pottery.

Next door to the site is the house of Karen Denhalter, who like many descendants has a couple of crockery pieces -- including one used as an umbrella holder -- made by her great-grandfather.(cq)

She said her ancestor was as industrious as he was creative.

"Besides making pottery, he was a poet who wrote the hymn 'O Come You Sons of God.'"

Archaeology student Mike Estep, said the experience at the site has been invaluable to his education.

"It's my first archaeological experience and it has been amazing to find things 150 years old," he said. "I found one piece of pottery that had a hand print pressed in it. It was incredible.

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Info box

Archaeologists from the Parowan project will hold a brown bag lunch Monday, noon, at the Iron Mission State Park in Cedar City to answer questions about pottery followed by a lecture and slide show at 1 p.m. on what they have discovered.

To learn more about the Parowan pottery dig site, visit




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