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GES181 - Ceramics Factory, PA, USA

The pottery was built on the site of a brick works, and had numerous problems for it's first decade of operation. Financial difficulties and changes of ownership meant that it was finally settled in 1913, and continued until 1991. During and after that time it experienced fires, in 1976 a fire broke out at the site causing $200,000 of damage. After being abandoned, In 2011, and 2012 (a month after our visit) the place was the victim of fires, as seen in the first two pictures below. The pottery was established in the town due to it's availability of a special type of coal that suited kilns, not primarily because of clay deposits in the area. It had access to the rail network for importation of raw materials, and also export. The company supplied all over the world, mainly to hotels, as well as to the White House.

We rolled up in GE080's Jeep, and all piled out. It was then off up the rail tracks along the side of the property in the warm sun, similar to the characters in the classic film 'Standby Me.' We walked through the open fence and into the property. GE080 had been before, and led his lady friend from Detroit, myself and GE074 to the middle of the site, the main factory building. The shot below is looking out the back end of the warehouse building to the factory building. As the section in-between burnt down, they may have been all of one huge building.

An area destroyed in the 2011 fire, the area to the right in the next part of the building escaped unscathed, and is full of packing crates filled with crockery.

I get the impression this was a kiln for experiments or more delicate items that required more care.

Unfortunately at this point some scrappers we were aware of deeper in the factory made themselves known. A woman pushing a trolley came up to us wearing a ripped black t-shirt, forced out over her swollen belly. Her jeans were ripped and dirty, her white trainers were equally ripped and worn. She asked what we were up to, and mentioned that in around 15 minutes the site owner would be doing a routine tour. We packed up and headed back out to the rail tracks. A mixture of not wanting to be around metal thieves with expensive cameras, and not wanting to bump into the site owner, if he actually did do routine visits at the same time every day. We set off across the state line to Ohio, and a cinema GE080 thought might be possible.

We returned to the town the factory is in on the way back, hoping it would be quiet. We checked around, and it appeared we were alone. So we continued pretty much from where we left off. This is the main kiln area, as far as I can see. The kiln is at the rear right of the picture below. The fork lifts move the pallets of moulds into the kiln.

This appeared to be what i took as the main kiln in the factory, the place seemed set up around it. The kiln is in a broken circle, with both ends visible in the picture below. It could of course, have just been used to fire the chinaware and glaze it.

Up a set of stairs near the main kiln above, and we were in a preparation room. Here i'm guessing the clay was added to the moulds. At the back of the room was a lift down to the main kiln area. The moulds would have been put on a pallet on the lift, and sent down to be greeted by a forklift below. The one thing I couldn't work out when wandering around this place, was how they got the clay to be the right thickness and sit properly in the mould. I mean, the stuff that comes out is all uniform and smooth.

Shelves of moulds, each one has written on the side what it is.

At the end of the mould filling room, seen above, was this modeling shop. It featured two tables and a few moulds lying about in a small room. Across the way is the lift down to the kiln area. GE074 using his ninja skills to descend, rather than using the stairs around the corner. On the right of the lift was the shelves of moulds seen in the pic above.

Back on the ground floor of the factory, and towards the front building, we came across the workers clock punching station.

More stacks of moulds, in another first floor area above the kilns and warehouse. Here were large blocks of moulds, 3 layers deep. In front of them was this production line.

One of the moulding stacks, damaged by water ingress from the ceiling.

Cup moulds on one of the stacks.

We left the middle section, and walked back across the open area, that was likely at one time covered, and part of the factory. Here a pile of trashed chinaware, that would have likely been sat in crates in this area, before the 2011 fire. I couldn't resist the urge to turn into a Greek waiter, and began to smash smash smash!

On the first floor of the front building, a packing line. Here crates would have rolled off, filled with chinaware. I guess this was obsolete, as most of the infrastructure and machinery of the place was sold off in an auction in 1992.

Having seen as much as we wanted, we had a last mess about in the warehouse, where an aisle of packing crates lay open. I'm guessing the local residents all have similar looking china to that which we found here. A group shot, with GE074 pulling a gun hand, and GE080 going for the double plate move.

And with that, we crossed the tracks back to the Jeep.

It's all very well having fun and wandering around a cool derelict place. But here more than anywhere before, I was deeply affected by the social effect of this place's closure. As we drove around the corner, GE080 drove through an estate with grinding poverty. Every house had junk and crap lying over their lawns. Lots of adults stood about on what was a work day. It wouldn't surprise me if the woman we'd met earlier on wasn't from here. Touring around this area of America, and having studied at University in Upstate NY, one sees a lot of towns that grow up around one industry. When the factories or mines close, the town has little else to offer the workers. Either long term unemployment, or move somewhere else. The latter is how America functions to some extent, having a mobile workforce. The brilliant and hugely depressing novel by John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath details this in the 1930s.

Thanks to GE080 for transport and tour.


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