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Learn the History of Pigeon River Pottery at Old Mill Square

If you’ve ever been to Pigeon Forge, you’ve probably visited the Old Mill Square. This popular spot is full of rich history, including the operational grist mill that grinds corn and flour for the Old Mill Restaurant and Pottery House Cafe. If you’ve been to either of these restaurants, you’ve probably also seen the beautiful handmade pottery made by Pigeon River Pottery in Old Mill Square. We want to share the history of this artisan landmark with you. Keep reading to find out more about Pigeon River Pottery:

Humble Beginnings

norris damA man named Douglas Ferguson founded Pigeon River Pottery in 1946 with his wife. Ferguson was born in North Carolina and originally wanted to go to art school in Chicago. He came to Tennessee to make money by working on the Norris dam. To make a little extra for art school, Ferguson would draw pin up girls and sketch dignitaries when they would visit the dam. He would show these men his drawings, and then sign it and sell it to them.

Becoming a Potter

When his superiors realized his talents, Ferguson was transferred into TVA’s ceramic research lab where he tested clays, glazes, and kilns. Ferguson became a ceramics engineer and worked as an apprentice under Ernest Wilson, who was known as one of the best potters in America. Wilson’s daughter, Ruth, came down to visit her father and ended up falling for Ferguson.

The Start of Old Mill Pottery

pigeon river potteryThe couple worked over many years to save enough money to start their own business. They had kept an eye out for the perfect spot, and it opened up in Pigeon Forge. The area was rich in red clay, which is what they used to make pottery. They bought the old tobacco barn on the Old Mill property and turned the upstairs into living quarters and the downstairs into pottery stalls.

Instead of purchasing expensive equipment needed to make pottery, Ferguson and his wife designed and built their own. They made their own kilns, blocks, and castings. They also designed stock molds so they could make multiples of many items, including cream and sugar bowls. Ferguson experimented and made several one-of-a-kind items over the years. He wanted his pieces to be unique and feel like they came from the area, which is why the names of the glazes are centered around the Smokies.

Pigeon River Pottery Today

pottery at pottery house cafe

Today, you can walk through the store and see how Ferguson’s ideas came to fruition. There are several different colors and hundreds of different items. You can get a bacon cooker, place settings, wine tumblers, and so much more. All of these items are handmade to this day. You can actually watch potters make items in the back of the store throughout the day. Their studio is open so guests can watch them throw clay.

People love visiting Pigeon River Pottery and the other stores in Old Mill Square. Now you know a little more about the history of the area! Want to know what else you can do when you’re in town? Check out these other Smoky Mountain attractions you should visit!