Today as I put clothes in my washing machine, I thought of the old black wash pot at the Buffalo Island Museum. It is made of cast iron, holds about twenty gallons and has three legs on the bottom with two handles on the sides. It was made in the late 1800's, and was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Mike Jones. Iron pots have been around since ancient China. The cast iron pots were mostly made by the local blacksmith in early America. You can often tell the age of your old iron pot by looking at the bottom side. The oldest ones have a "spruce" mark. This was used until the mid to late 1700's. From mid-1700 to late 1800's, a "gate" mark was used (a long thin line). If it has a smooth bottom, it is most likely made after 1875.
I can remember my Grandmother having a pot similar to that one. At that time, Monday was wash day and the old pot was filled with water. A wood fire was built under it and as you waited for the water to boil, you placed two galvanized steel tubs on a table under the trees in the back yard. The hot water was placed in the first tub, lye soap was added and the clothes were rubbed clean using the old rub board. If there were really dirty clothes, they sometimes were put in the old black iron pot with the lye soap and left to soak awhile. The clothes were rung out and put in the rinse tub, and were twisted again before hanging on clotheslines strung from tree to tree.
That old black pot had other uses too. It held hot water for use at hog slaughtering time or chicken plucking time. Later the old black pot held the fat from the hogs to make lard. Lye soap was made from lye, lard, and water. It was cooked in the pot, then put into molds. When cool, it was cut into bars and used to clean clothes, dishes, and people. The pot was also used to make cracklings. Some used their iron pot for cooking and squashing grapes for making juice or wine or for cooking vegetables for canning.
The old iron pot has seen many uses over the years and has found a resting place at the museum to remind us of years gone by. Today the old iron wash pots still have an important use: filled with flowers in the yards around Buffalo Island.
The museum is open Friday and Saturday 1:00-4:00. Admission is always free. Special tours can be arranged by calling Monette City Hall at 870-486-2000. Check out the museum's Facebook page for more information and pictures.