Inside the Poor Potter site

Historian for the National Park Service, Jane Sundberg inside the new building that covers the Poor Potter archaeological dig site in Yorktown. (Dave Bowman / Daily Press / April 27, 2004)

    That same year, however, the seemingly humble artisan died, leaving an estate that included numerous buildings and lots in Williamsburg as well as Yorktown, not to mention a waterfront warehouse, two boats, a coach and numerous horses, cattle and sheep as well as nearly three dozen slaves.
    Listed among Rogers' household possessions were telltale indications of a well-to-do gentleman's life, including silver serving vessels, fine furniture, framed maps and Dutch paintings in gilt frames.
    Equally revealing is the inventory of Rogers' pottery factory, which reported 26 dozen (312) quart mugs, 60 dozen (720) pint mugs, 11 dozen (132) milk pans, 2 dozen (24) red saucepans, 2 dozen (24) porringers, 4 dozen (48) bird bottles, 4 dozen (48) small dishes, 3 dozen (36) lamps, 4 dozen (48) small stoneware bottles, 4 dozen (48) small dishes and 6 dozen (72) pudding pans as well as 30 cream pots.
    "The astonishing thing is that these were very high-quality goods," says Jane Sundberg, cultural resource management specialist for Colonial National Historical Park.
    "And that quality could be found in everything from the most common milk pans to stove tiles."
    By 1970, the archaeological and documentary records of the pottery's importance had grown so compelling that the Park Service purchased the property in order to preserve it.
    Workmen erected a protective metal Quonset hut over the remains of the kilns and workshop a few years later, enabling Barka to continue his archaeological work into the early '80s.
    An interpretive plan for the site emerged not long afterward, Sundberg says. But lack of funding forced the park to shelve its proposal and rebury parts of the exposed ruins.
    Nearly two decades passed before the $718,000 project finally received federal funding in 2002. But the wait may have enabled the Park Service and Williamsburg architect Carlton Abbott to make the most of an innovative design for the new 2,600-square-foot, barnlike building.
    Straddling Rogers' kiln and a portion of his workshop like an elevated balcony, the steel and wood-frame structure enables visitors to walk completely around one of the most important portions of the site without exposing its surface to potentially destructive foot traffic. It also provides space for a series of exhibit cases as well as visual access through several large windows when the building is closed.
    Staffing remains a problem. Sundberg hopes the pottery's historical and economic importance will help attract a needed corps of volunteer interpreters.
    Still, she has no doubts about the power of the archaeological remains to tell the poor Potter's story once the interpretive signs and exhibits are complete -- and visitors get the chance to take full advantage of the elevated, theater-in-the-round experience created by Abbott's building.
    "I think people will really like this," Sundberg says, smiling down on the ruins of the workshop and kiln.
    "With the walkway around it, the site looks really great. You can see everything from this vantage point."
    A new National Park Service exhibit building that straddles the archaeological remains of the "poor Potter's" 18th-century kiln site will be dedicated at 11 a.m. today. The 2,600-square-foot structure is located between Read and Nelson streets in historic Yorktown. Admission to the public event, which includes a tour of the site, is free. The building will be open on an occasional basis only until a volunteer interpretive staff is assembled. Interpretive signs and exhibits are scheduled to be installed by mid-summer. For more info or to volunteer, contact Colonial National Historical Park at 898-3400.