Manufacturer Notes: Sidney Risley

  Sidney Risley came to Norwich, where he married, on April 28, 1841, Mary Dodge, of Norwich; he was then called of East Hartford, Connecticut; in 1845 he owned land and a dwelling house on School street. He established a small pottery in Thamesville, on the bank of the river, almost directly back of the present residence of Mr. John E. Post, 76 West Thames street, probably on leased ground. The buildings were small but some good work was done, examples being still extant. Before September, 1845, Risley had removed to Cove street, and in the first Norwich directory published in 1846 was listed as "Sidney Risley, stoneware pottery, Cove street, W. C." (W. C., West Chelsea.) While the west bank of the Thames river was at that time the home of a number of sea captains and the site of shipyards, the section around Cove street, in what was then called West Chelsea, was almost undeveloped. The large stone house of Captain William W. Coit, on the present Fairmount street, later occupied by Mr. John Porteous, was the only prominent dwelling house of the section. 
  In the "Norwich Directory" of 1857 is the advertisement of "Sidney Risley, No. 4 Cove St., Manufacturer of Stone Ware in Every Variety. The Trade supplied with all kinds of Stone Ware, at the lowest market prices. N.B. All orders thankfully received and promptly attended to." In this same directory appears the name of Joseph F. Winship, potter, living on Salem turnpike, employed by Risley; in 1861 he was still working in the pottery. This Winship has been mentioned as formerly in the employ of Erastus Wentworth at Bean Hill. 
  Additions were made to the original plant, so that in later years considerable space was occupied. The calendar for 1921 issued by the "Norwich Morning Bulletin," shows the old pottery, the picture being taken from an old print in possession of Attorney William H. Shields, of Norwich. The sheds, workroom, and old kiln, on the bank of the cove, are most interesting, and contrast sharply with the appearance of the spot at the present day. A small arm of the Yantic river ran up to the place where the pottery was situated, and from this the street obtained its name of Cove street. Wood for the kiln could be brought by boat or team. Everyone in that section of the town knew when the fires were going at the pottery, for the dense black smoke from the three-foot sticks filled the sky for a space of from 36 to 50 hours, according to the particular kind of work being done. The clay used in the manufacture of the wares is said to have been brought from New Jersey and Long Island in schooners which anchored in the river nearby. 
  The wares of the Risley pottery, like those of Armstrong & Wentworth, were loaded in wagons and peddled through all the eastern part of Connecticut. Wentworth, as has been said, had two one-horse wagons; Alvin T. Davis was one of the old drivers for Risley, and his pottery wagon with a fine pair of Newfoundland dogs hitched on ahead of the horses is still remembered. Risley at first leased the property, but in 1856 purchased it and continued the business until his death on April 26, 1875, at the age of sixty-one years. His son, George L. Risley, then continued the works until his tragic death on the day before Christmas, 1881. He had gone to the pottery to light the fires under an upright boiler, which blew up, and, going through the roof of the building, landed in the cove about 120 feet away. It is said that the force of the explosion was so great that the 1500-pound boiler passed completely over a fifty-foot elm tree at the rear of the pottery. Mr. Risley was so badly injured that he died that evening. An account of the accident appeared in the "Scientific American" in January, 1822(sic). 
  B. C. Chace opened the pottery about a year later, under the name of the Norwich Pottery Works; in 1885 he was succeeded by George B. Chamberlain, who continued it for about two years. Perhaps a little more ornamental work was attempted at this time, for a Norwich resident remembers seeing one of the Chamberlain girls make a vase, with flower ornament. The business was then continued by Otto N. Suderburg till 1895, when it was discontinued. All the buildings comprising the pottery have now disappeared and the locality is greatly altered in appearance. The cove was filled in when the New London, Willimantic & Palmer railroad was built, and its successor, the New London Northern railroad, became owners of part of the property. What was left of the buildings was torn down in 1900, the old brick was thrown into a hole in the lot, and a new building, used as a warehouse, was erected on the old pottery site by Mr. Charles Slosberg. The warehouse, with the Slosberg name, may be seen from the Central Vermont railroad station on the West Side. Thus, after a period of over one hundred and thirty years, vanished one of the industries of Norwich. 

Marshall, Benjamin Tinkham; A Modern History of New London Connecticut (New York, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1922)

Sidney Risley, 1836-1875; stoneware; rare mark is name and address, impressed; (1-25-32)
George L. Risley, 1875-1881; same; no marks; (32); succeded by
B. C. Chance, Norwich Pottery Works, 1881-1884; same; no marks; (32) succeeded by
C. B. Chamberland, 1885-1887; same; no marks; (32); succeeded by
Otto N. Sudenberg, 1887-1895; same; no mark. (32)

Ransay, John; American Potters and Pottery (Boston, Cushman and Flint, 1939)

   Stoneware marked S. Risley / Norwich is often found in eastern Connecticut and, indeed, throughout New England. It is the product of forty years of manufacture in a pottery on cove Street that was founded by Sidney Risley. the old building, bearing an historical tablet to commemorate the pottery, is even now standing on the grounds of the Yantic grain mill. Originally the site was on the shore of the Yantic Cove, but the land was filled in when the New London, Willimantic and Palmer Railroad was built.

   The story of the Risley pottery begins with the erection of this building on land owned by a Norwich grocer, Elijah A. Bill, and Cushing Eells. The purchase deed, dated September 4, 1835, makes no mention of a pottery on the premise, but, ten years later, when Eells sold his share of the land to Bill, the conveyance speaks of a "building now improved as a pottery." It is thought that Risley came from Hartford, where his brother Albert was a potter for many years, and he may have come at the instigation of Elijah Bill. Bill's interest in the venture appears in the Norwich Almanac, Directory and Business Advertiser of 1846, in which he announces that he was "manufacturing extensively Stone Ware of the very best quality, which he offers at wholesale or retail on the very best terms." On April 2, 1856, Risley bought the land and the buildings, which he had previously leased from Bill, and in the 1857 directory advertised in his own name.
   In 1846, Joseph F. Winship and Orestes Root were working at the pottery. Winship was perhaps the man mentioned by Spargo in The Potters and Potteries of Bennington as having been employed by Captain Norton in the 1820's. Previous to his engagement at Risley's factory, Winship had made some attempt at establishing a business for himself. i have seen a jug marked Winship & Spencer / Norwich. There is also a three gallon pitcher owned by F. H. Norton with the mark incised by hand J. F. Winship / Norwich. This however, could have been made when the potter was working for Risley. Winship remained at the Norwich pottery until 1875 or later. In the years between 1853 and 1861, the names of Root, Thomas Irons, Albert Risley, Richard Quinlan, and John McPherson appear in Risley's account book as employees. A few years later McPherson was conducting a stoneware business in East Haven, Connecticut.
   Sidney Riley's son George L. entered the business with his father in 1865 and worked with him during the next ten years. After his father's death in April 1875, he was sole owner of the plant, which he continued to manage until a fatal accident ended his family's connection with the pottery. On the day before Christmas, 1881, George L. Risley went to the works to light a fire under an upright boiler at the rear of the building. A terrific explosion took place, blowing the fifteen-hundred-pound tank through the roof of the building and over a tall elm tree into the mud of the cove one hundred and twenty feet away. Risley was so severely injured that he died that evening.
   The business was taken over the next year by Benjamin Cartwright Chance from Somerset, Massachusetts. Thereafter, until its close in 1895, the concern was known as the Norwich Pottery Works. Chance ran it only three years, selling out to George B. Chamberland, who was even less successful. The final owner. Otto N. Sudarberg, bought the pottery in 1887. He added a second kiln to the original equipment, besides enlarging the facilities for working and storage. Stories are told about the damage caused by the river's overflowing. In 1889 Sudarberg lost an entire baking of pottery when the waters rose into the kilns, putting out the fires.

Watkins, Lura Woodside; Early New England Potters and Their Wares (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1950) 

679 2060 William Bush          52 M Grocer       Conn
                  Ester      "               23 F                         "
                  David Clark           18 M      "                 "
       2061 Sidney Risley         35 M Potter             "
                 Mary E     "              28 F                     Mass
                 George    "                7 M                    Conn
                 Mary E     "                5 F                         "
                 Jonathan Tasbox   62 M Peddler          "
                 John McPierson     23 M Laborer      Canada

1850 Connecticut, New London, Norwich Census

1422 1507 Sydney Risley      45 M W Potter 10000 3000 Cn
                    Geo L       "           17 M W     "                              "
                    Mary         "           14 M W                                     "
                    WM                         9 M W                                     "
                    Susan Dodge      31 F W Housekeeper             "
                    Myron Stirry         17 M W Carpenter                   Mas

1860 Connecticut, New London, Norwich Census

Risley Geo. L., potter, 10 High W S
RISLEY SIDNEY, potter, 7 Cove, h 8 High, W S

Stone Ware Manufacturer

Risley Sidney, 7 Cove

Stedman, John W.; Stedman's Directory of the city and Town of Norwich (Norwich, Norwich Printing Company, 1867)

164 275 Risley Sidney        53 M W Potter                                   5000 3000 Conn
                   + William           18 M W Works in Pottery                                      Conn
               Gardnier William  26 M W Works in Machine Shop                          Conn
                      -       Mary       23 F W Keeping House                                         Conn
165 275 Risley George     26 M W Works in Pottery                                130 Conn
                  -Sara               24 F W Keeping House                                          Conn
                  -Lena                  5 F W       --         --                                                Conn
                  -Lila                     2 F W       --         --                                                Conn

1870 Connecticut, New London, Norwich Census

Drain and Sewer Pipe Manufactures and Dealers.

Risley Sidney, 7 Cove, Norwich


Risley Sidney, 7 Cove, Norwich

Connecticut Business Directory For 1874 (Boston, Briggs & Co., 1874)

RISLEY SIDNEY, potter, 7 Cove, h 8 High

Stedman, John; Stedman's Directory of the City and Town of Norwich (Norwich, Norwich Printing Company, 1874)

Risley George L, potter 7 Cove, h 10 High
Risley Wm D, potter, bds 8 High

Price, Lee & Co.; Stedman's Directory of the City and Town of Norwich (Norwich, Norwich Printing Company, 1875) 

Risley George L, potter 7 Cove, h 10 High
Risley William D, potter, h 15 Spring

Stone Ware Manufacturer.

Risley George L., Cove

Price, Lee & Co.; Stedman's Directory of the city and Town of Norwich (Norwich, Bulletin Company, 1878)

8 184 339 Risley George L      W M 34                   1   Pottery Mfgr                      Conn
                   -Sarah C                W F 32 Wife           1  Keeping house                 Conn
                   -Mary L                   W F 15 Daughter 1    at school                            Conn
                   -Eliza D                  W F 12 Daughter 1                                                Conn
                   Davis Eliza              W F 69 Aunt                1 House Keeper                Conn

1880 Connecticut, New London, Norwich Census

Suderberg, Otto N., prop Nor. Pottery & Nor. Emery Wheel Works 11 Cove, h 12 North High

Price, Lee & Co.; Stedman's Directory of the City and Town of Norwich (Norwich, Bulletin Company, 1895)


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