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Madison's Oldest Industry is Pottery

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Madison's Oldest Industry is Pottery




The oldest known industry in Madison County is the making of pottery.

J. P. Grinstead, who learned the potter's trade in Virginia moved to Waco around 1840 and continued the trade. It is believed that Green Clay Smith, later a general in the Civil War and a prominent politician, was associated with Grinstead for a time. Around 1866 a pottery was operated at Bybee by a son of Grinstead and Louis Bybee. Some of Morgan's raiders visited Waco during the Civil War and, upon learning that the operator of the pottery plant, Valentine Baumstark, was a Union sympathizer, broke up the finished pottery and damaged the plant.

The most widely known potters are the Cornelison's whose Bybee Pottery traces back to 1845 for sure and maybe beyond that. The central building at the Cornelison establishment is built of logs with solid walnut beams. Clay dust over the years has raised the floor level several inches. The process of mining the clay, grinding it in the antique pug mill, throwing and shaping it by hand into the finished product on the potter's wheel is done the same as it was 125 years ago.

The clay itself is found about three miles away and is the reason for the concentration of potteries in the Waco-Bybee area. All are gone now save Cornelison's Bybee Pottery. The Waco-Pottery lasted until the early sixties before it closed down, but toward the end mainly made clay pipe and tiles. The clay is mixed only with water, is ground, and then stored in an ancient vault. It is weighed in old balances and then thrown by hand and shaped into the desired form by the potter. Each piece is then dried, glazed and fired in a kiln heated to 2,200 degrees for 24 hours. The kiln is gas fired.

Walter Cornelison is the present operator of the Bybee pottery. He is the fourth Cornelison in the skilled craft, succeeding James Eli, Walter, and Ernest Cornelison. His children, Robert, Paula, and James Andrew give promise of keeping up the family tradition. Walter always welcomes visitors and it is a treat to watch this skilled potter hand turn out the famous Bybee pottery.


Dr. Fred Engle






Dr. Fred Engle, “Madison's Oldest Industry is Pottery,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed July 29, 2021,