Articles & Stories

Bybee Pottery: A 150-Year-Old
Business In Madison County

The Cornelison Family Have Produced Treasures
Of All Sizes And Colors For Five Generations

Mr. Walter Cornelison, owner of Bybee Pottery, in southeastern Madison County, Kentucky, has been making pottery for at least 58 years and still works on the pottery wheel almost every day.



By Connie Miller - 2007

Monday, May 28, 2007, 6:16 a.m. -- I am on my way to pick up my friend, Karen, at our designated meeting place. We are going on a treasure hunt, one of several that we make every year. We are going to Bybee Pottery.
Bybee Pottery is located in the small town of Bybee in southeastern Madison County, Kentucky. It is the oldest existing pottery west of the Alleghenies. Pottery has been produced in the same log building for over a hundred years.
6:45 a.m. -- We arrive at Bybee Pottery. There are several cars already in the parking lot, although the doors do not open until 8:00 a.m. There is an unwritten rule that the first person there is the first person through the door. Another unwritten rule is that you can mark your place in line with any item that you happen to have in your car: a book, a cardboard box, an umbrella. I have seen stuffed animals, rocks, and ice scrapers on the line. Karen and I mark our places with a pair of hiking boots.
The Cornelison family has owned Bybee Pottery for five generations. Mr. and Mrs. Walter Cornelison are the fifth generation, and they can be found there most days. Mr. Cornelison is sometimes on the potter's wheel or with Mrs. Cornelison helping in the store, wrapping purchases in the newspaper that is in abundance there.  Their children, Robert, James, and Paula and Paula's husband, Russell Gabbard, are on hand to help out. Bybee also has several long-term employees. Harvey Conner has been working there 42 years and Brenda Cole has been there 30 years. Visitors can see Bybee pottery being made Monday through Friday. Shelves are stocked on different days of the week, usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
7:30 a.m. -- There is movement in the store. They are unloading the kiln and stocking the shelves. We all pile out of our cars and look in the windows, oohing and ahhing over all the treasures we see. There are mixing bowls, pitchers of every size, plates, mugs, and bakeware of all sorts, in the traditional colors of blue, green, and maroon, with a few new patterns thrown in.
The clay used to make the pottery is found in an open pit about three miles from Bybee. History records show that this same clay was mined by the first settlers of Kentucky then taken to Fort Boonesbor-ough for making dishes there. After the clay is mixed with water, it is ground in an antique pug mill, weighed to insure uniformity then made into the desired form by the potter. After drying completely, the pieces are glazed and fired in a kiln heated to 2200 degrees.

Bybee Pottery, located at Bybee in southeastern Madison County, Kentucky, is the oldest working pottery business west of the Alleghenies. Dating back to 1809, Bybee Pottery has been a Kentucky tradition for over 150 years.






Most of the visitors to Bybee are women. This morning is no exception. There are about 12 of us in line so far, with more in line on the other side of the building. We all trade stories of some of our previous visits to Bybee. Some of the women here this morning are from Irvine. They have a family reunion every Memorial Day weekend then make the trek to Bybee on Memorial Day. They said that tradition has been going on for several years. We all talk about a favorite piece of pottery that we have acquired. I have given Bybee pottery for gifts for everything from Christmas to birthdays and weddings. It is always well received, usually with an exclamation of, "Oh, look, it's Bybee." I have bought so much over the years that my husband built two shelves in our kitchen just to house it. One thing that I like about my Bybee pottery is that it is so functional. I use every piece, a favorite being a large mixing bowl with a handle and spout.
7:55 a.m. - The anticipation is growing. We can feel it in the air. At exactly 8:00 a.m. the doors are unlocked and the rush is on. Another unwritten rule is that when you find a piece of pottery that you want to buy, you place it on the floor. No one will touch anything on the floor. The stacks of pottery on the floor grow as everyone finds something they must have. On this trip, I am partial to several items that have flowers painted on them. I get a couple of flower vases, a pitcher for my collection, and other items too numerous to mention. I see another shelf being built in my kitchen. Karen finds several things in the color blue that she collects. Some peo-ple are Bybee "snobs," collecting only certain items in certain colors. Not me. I love it all in all colors.
8:20 a.m. - The shopping is over and the shelves were nearly empty at 8:20 a.m. Everyone moves to the middle of the store where Robert "Buzz" Cornelison is deftly operating the cash register, and Mr. Cornelison was wrapping each piece and placing it in the cardboard boxes that are such a familiar sight. By 8:30, our treasures are loaded in the back of my car and we headed home, giddy with excitement over all our new acquisitions. We are already planning our next "treasure hunt."

P. C. Miller, 3041 River Circle, Richmond, KY 40475; [email protected], shares this article and photos with our readers.