The Great Beehive Kilns of Yesteryear


I recently posted images on my Face Book page of the Archie Bray bee hive kilns. The large domed kilns haven't been fired since the 1950's but they still loom large as remnants of the Archie Bray's industrial past. University of Pennsylvania has been leading a conservation project to partially restore and stabilize the kilns over the last two summers. After seeing images of the kilns Jim Weber wrote me about a trip his took to visit similar kilns in Lizella, GA. He has graciously agreed to let me post his story here. Thanks Jim!

Lizella, Ga. is about 40 miles south from me. I went there years ago and met and spoke with one of the "Meritt" family men who had grown up in the pottery business. I can't remember his first name, but his nephew ( I think) Mark, is still digging clay where something like 5 or 6 generations of the family have grown and worked.

Mr. Merritt gave my friend and I a tour of the old shop and kilns and reminisced of the days when he was 60 + yr.'s younger. He started by telling about loading/unloading these big bee-hive kilns, when just a boy. They would empty the kiln while it was still quite warm, or "still hot !!", he remembered. The boys would enter the kiln through the small opening (hence, a "boy's work") and grab as many fired flower pots (their #1 product which were fired stacked together, maybe in 5'-6' "columns") and remove them. As they emptied space enough, they would take a stack of "green" planters into the kiln, leave them and grab yet another stack of fired pots and run back out. This continued until the finished pots were out and the new pots were in . . . days of candling and firing and cooling and . . . the "pot-boys" would do their part again.

The old man, Mr. Merritt, said to me, "Why, look at my hands, son . . . I couldn't leave a finger-print if I tried." Sure enough, his hands and particularly his fingers were "smooth as glass" because "those pots were hot!!, and we'd have thousands to get out !!" ((he gave a more accurate count which I can't remember). They would not wait for a more thorough cooling, as they needed the residual heat to warm and "finish dryin' the new pots".

I'll NEVER forget this old man and his shiny smooth hands. Mark Merritt and his wife and partner Conni continue the family tradition with clay as part of their daily lives. Here is a link to a posting on their F.B. page. Look them up and "Like" them. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lizella-Clay/165045871222

Jim Weber


  1. That kiln is the coolest looking thing I have ever seen. Thanks for sharing! Your writing made me feel like I was right there with you.

    1. Hello Lisa,
      Thanks for reading the blog. I love those old beehive kilns. I'm glad they are investing the time to "renovate" them.