Churnin' up History

ROBBY BYRD/The Amory Advertiser PIECES OF HISTORY — Janis Suggs Dyson (kneeling) and her sister Linda Suggs Wood (standing) exa

ROBBY BYRD/The Amory Advertiser PIECES OF HISTORY — Janis Suggs Dyson (kneeling) and her sister Linda Suggs Wood (standing) exa

By ROBBY BYRD
General Manager

Only a short 2 1/2 mile journey down Highway 23 in Smithville, just around Cowley's curve, lies the road to which Janis Dyson and Linda Wood travel to relive most of their early childhood memories.
Now called Jug Shop Road, once a rural route, is home to the only remaining artifact of their grandfather's and father's, William David Suggs and Rex Ruggs, pottery shop. The conical brick structure that once operated as one of the Suggs Pottery kilns is now overgrown and serves as the centerpiece to a barbed wire area for livestock.
But to Dyson and Wood the kiln is only a small piece of the enormity they remember from the their early years. Early years that mean so much to them now they have decided to pen a book to document the history of their family business.
Even though the area has changed, Dyson and Wood can still vividly remember the shop as if it were still standing.
“This was where the shop stood,” said Dyson as she mapped out invisible walls with her hand. “The other kiln, which was used more because it produced better heat, was over there. This road seems to have moved over during the years though because it seemed like the shop was much larger than the space that's here now.”
Dyson said the shop had a drying room, a room for the clay to be stored, along with a work area where the pottery was formed.
The shop produced, in its early years (the shop opened in the early 1900s), items that were essential to the everyday lives of people in those days. Most popular of the items were the Suggs churns, used by most every household for various reasons from pickling to churning butter.
According to Dyson, other popular items included jugs, crocks, bird baths, buttermilk pitchers and flu thimbles. She also said the items were distributed to hardware stores all over the Southeast.
After industrial modernization in the 1950s, Dyson said, her father tried to transform the business to fit the needs of his customers. He then began to make ornamental items as well as functional items.
“He started making toy churns and small animals,” Dyson said. “Some people out in the rural area still needed things like churns but the demand for those items was less than before.”
The shop closed in 1955 due mostly to the lack of need for the items that had built such a strong business, but Suggs pottery lives on long past its makers.
“There is sort of a mystic about Suggs Pottery,” Dyson said. “People clamor for anything that is Suggs, and they're real possessive of their pottery.”
She said the original churns were sold for a few cents per gallon, but the same churns today sell anywhere from $75 to $150 a churn. She has seen them on the internet and in antique stores all over Mississippi and other Southern states.
Dyson and Wood now make trips down every so often to visit the place where so much of their childhood was spent. Between picnicking in their old favorite spots and visiting family in and around Smithville, the sisters spend much of their time researching their family's past and the history of Suggs Pottery.
Their interest in the old family business and their family's history led them to take on the task of recording the workings and the dealings of their father's and grandfather's business.
“We get a feeling of nostalgia when we come up here,” Dyson said. “Plus it's sad to think it's (shop) no longer here.”
Dyson and Wood have much of the inner workings of the shop recorded from old ledgers they've found and from their own recollections. Now they're looking for the memories of others.
“We just want to hear some of the anecdotes others may have, and to hear about which members of their family may have worked here,” Dyson said. “We want to see what pieces of pottery they have the stories behind them.
“And if they want to give us a few pieces of pottery we wouldn't mind that either,” she added with a laugh.
To contact Janis Dyson or her sister Linda Wood to pass on your stories of Suggs Pottery call them at 662-456-4555.