before K-mart and before the litany of other discount chain stores
popped up all over the country there was the Williamsburg Pottery
The Pottery, located in Lightfoot, VA on Rt. 60 is a unique retail
experience for shoppers. For almost 70 years customers have come to
shop the acres of bargains.
A younger generation of customers have no idea of the humble beginnings
of this landmark business.
It all started in the 1938 when James E. Maloney, a potter by trade,
sought out a curve in the road.
“Back then potters knew to find a curve in the road to set up
their business. It is the best place for cars to see you both ways,”
He picked this particular curve in the road because of it’s
high bank which was good for displaying the ten-cent pottery and because
it was in James City County. “We always got our clay from James
City County. It is a very fine clay that is good to turn on the potters
wheel,” he said.
A photo from the family collection, showing Jimmie Maloney
in the early days of the pottery.
from the family collection, showing Jimmie Maloney at the potters
wheel on the Monticello Road.
When asked what
contributed to his success at business? He would answer, “It’s
the luck of the Irish. ” Although he would also say it took
a lot of hard work to build a successful business.
Jimmie has always been proud of his of Irish ancestry. He says he
comes from good hard working Irish stock. His grandfather and family
came to America from Ireland in the mid- nineteenth century. They
settled in Avoca, Pennsylvania a small Irish community near Scranton.
Jimmie’s folks worked as bakers, morticians, furniture makers
In the early 1900’s word was spread that the shipyard in Newport
News, Virginia would offer opportunity for good employment. In fact,
Newport News was touted to become the next New York City. So the Maloney
family packed up and moved in hopes of a bright future. It was in
Newport News that Jimmie was born on 60th street in 1912.
There were many struggles for this young Irish family. Jimmie’s
dad worked as a first class machinist at the shipyard and his mother
took care of the five children. They lived paycheck-to-paycheck but
even in hard times Jimmie recalls having fun growing up. His fondest
memories are of playing sports especially basketball with the neighborhood
He also remembers his favorite uncle being generous to him. “Sometimes
my uncle Henry who ran the CD Kenny Coffee Company on 28th street
would give us a little money to go to the movie. Back then it only
cost a nickel to buy a ticket,” he said.
After high school there was not much choice for a career. Many people
wanted to become apprentices at the shipyard but there were a 1,000
people on the apprentice waiting list.
Eventually, Jimmie found a place at an establishment called Pine Dell
off of Rt 5 in James City County. He worked for his room and board
plus six dollars a week.
P. M. Griesenauer was his boss. Jimmie admired Mr. Griesenauer’s
work ethic and he learned a lot during his time at Pine Dell. His
job was a laboring position. He dug ditches and in the winter trapped
for muskrat and possum.
What changed for Jimmie was when Mr. Griesenauer brought in potters
from North Carolina to use the kilns that were abandoned when he stopped
producing bricks. It is from those potters that Jimmie learned his
Jimmie put in 10-hours of labor during the day but he used his free
time to learn how to make pottery. “At night I would walk the
two miles up the road with a lantern. There was no electricity. I’d
use a kick wheel to make the pots. I made small stuff like ink wells
and cheese jars that I sold on Jamestown Road for five-cents a-piece,”
It wasn’t long after he became a master potter that Marie, Jimmie’s
sister, who worked as a nurse in Charlottesville, wrote to say she
had a friend that would help him set up business.
So Jimmie went Charlottesville where a well-respected Judge Dabney
befriended him. Judge Dabney had property on the winding mountain
road that led to Thomas Jefferson’s home. He let Jimmie set
up shop on this property and even sent prisoners from the local jail
to help build a kiln and a roadside shed. By 1936 Jimmie was selling
pots on the road to Monticello
boy is Jimmie’s oldest child, Fred. The woman holding him
lived in the area and is related to the man who sold Jimmie the
half acre. The little boy married the niece of the woman holding
him. Photo courtesy Rebecca Maloney Moore.
Jimmie met his wife Gloria. “There were some girls that would
pass by our small pottery shop quite often. They were on their way
up the mountain to pick apples. I had one of my workers go tell them
that they could make some money working with the pottery. They started
work and I had the good sense to pick her (Gloria). She has been number
one in helping me,” he said.
Jimmie managed to save a thousand dollars. He was making frequent
trips to James City County to get the clay. It was during one of these
trips he stopped in Lightfoot and worked a deal with a local farmer
to buy half acre of land for $300.
With the rest of his hard earned money he built a building with two
rooms in the back for his family, an outhouse, dug a 50-foot well
and built a kiln.
Jimmie hauled most of his pottery back to Charlottesville to sell,
however, they slowly started selling pottery seconds (pots that has
an imperfection) for ten-cents in Lightfoot. “People would come
by with pick up trucks and carry stuff back with them to their shop,”
Still, the catalyst that boosted the business was when a man wanted
to buy some pottery but had no room on his truck. His truck was full
of dishes he planned to sell up north. To solve the dilemma he left
some dishes on the hill and traded for some pottery. Jimmie was surprised
when customers looking at the pottery wanted to buy the dishes too.
“The man with the dishes became my friend and he told me where
we could get dishes in Ohio. That is what started the retail business,”
Soon Jimmie brought in more family members to help and he hired some
of the locals to work. “My dad resigned as civil service worker
and came to live with me. He was a great Irishman who loved to tell
stories. He took care of the front shop where the people came to buy,”
“Things were rough in those days. We had chickens, ducks, goats,
and cows. We raised our own food. People still remember the dirt floors
we had in the buildings and how the chickens would get up and break
the glass,” said Jimmie.
Those early years of putting long hours of hard work paid off for
Jimmie and his family.
The Pottery has evolved over the 70 years in operation. Most of the
family members are no longer with the pottery with the exception of
Jimmie’s two grandsons, George and Erik Wright.
Gloria died in 1993 and Jimmie died in 2005. Today his second wife,
Kim, is carrying on his hard work and his legacy. She knows the passion
her husband had for the Pottery. Jimmy would be proud of Kim as she
perseveres at growing the business and bringing the Williamsburg Pottery
Factory into the future while still maintaining acres of bargains.
So what advice would Jimmie give to someone just starting up a business?
“Be good to your customers, know your business well, work hard
and save your money,” said Jimmie.
All quotes from Jimmie have come from various taped interviews
over the years.