Old Dominion Pipe Company, LLC was founded by two brothers, Bob and Bill Savage, on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The Eastern Shore of Virginia encompasses the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, a land with a steep tradition in both agriculture and history.
The story of Old Dominion Pipe Company is two-fold. The first critical part of the story centers around the preservation of an heirloom Indian corn that had been grown on the Eastern Shore for over 140 years. Bill Savage discovered this heirloom Indian corn variety that was on the verge of extinction and took efforts to try and preserve this piece of American agricultural history. DNA testing of this heirloom variety revealed that it can be traced back to the “Bloody Butcher” variety grown at the base of the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains as early as the 1840s. Bill quickly determined that this heirloom corn when ground made a very sweet, and unique textured cornmeal. As a result, he and his wife, Laurel, started Pungo Creek Mills and began harvesting the corn using vintage and antique farm equipment and milling the corn using a restored 1935 Meadows Mills vertical stone grinding mill. In 2010, Pungo Creek Mills won the Best New Food Product Diamond Award at the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo in Richmond, Virginia for their heirloom Indian cornmeal.
As part of the harvesting process, one byproduct that began to accumulate in large piles was rather thick and colorful corn cobs. Bob, an avid pipe smoker, found that he could make very simple but functional corn cob pipes from the cobs that smoked extremely well with a variety of tobacco blends and were light and easy to clinch. From his own experience smoking the cobs, he began to pursue the idea of manufacturing Indian corn cob pipes with traditional bamboo stems.
The second half of the story surrounds a fascinating archeological discovery in April 2013. While metal detecting in a recently plowed field, Bob unearthed a forged iron band that proved to be the remnants of a wooden barrel. This rather unassuming iron relic proved to be the key to unlocking a Virginia colonial plantation site with a variety of mid to late 18th century artifacts including a large quantity of clay pipe bowls and stem fragments as well as the charred remnants of actual corn cobs from the 1700s. Further excavations have revealed that this site dates back to the mid-1600s. The pipes uncovered ranged from European manufactured white clay pipes to domestically produced 17th century terra cotta (Colono) clay pipes.
With the discovery of colonial clay pipes, the Savage brothers became even more committed to their idea of not only commercially producing corn cob pipes from their heirloom Indian corn, but to establish a company that would revive traditional smoking pipes from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Old Dominion Pipe Company, founded in 2013, is the realization of their commitment towards this goal.
In 2015, Old Dominion Pipe Co. began producing historically accurate clay pipes using the excavated pipe bowls and fragments from their historic site to reverse engineer molds of these unique, and in some cases rare, colonial era clay pipes. Old Dominion clay pipes are now found in many historic site gift shops as well as being used as props in historic based films such as in Season 2 of the Netflix series, Frontier.
Old Dominion conitinues to expand its product offerings as well as improving the quality of its pipes. In 2016, the company began to produce corn cob pipes from an heirloom white pipe corn variety that was developed around 1900 by the Missouri pipe making industry for its exceptionally thick and dense cobs that were well suited for corn cob pipe production. These cobs became the industry standard for corn cob pipe manufacture through the first half of the 20th century. After seeing the benefits and quality of pipes that can be produced from this heirloom pipe corn, Old Dominion has made the decision beginning in 2018 to switch over production of their corn cob pipes entirely to the heirloom pipe corn variety. While it was a difficult decision to switch over from our Indian corn, we feel that we can make a better quality cob pipe for our customers and in the end, producing a quality pipe is what we are about. While the Indian corn may no longer be used for making our pipes, the variety is still grown on our Virginia farm where it is harvested and ground into cornmeal by Pungo Creek Mills and also sold to craft breweries for making a corn lager.
Also, in 2018, as a collaborative effort between Pungo Creek Mills and Old Dominion Pipe Co., the shelled corn from the heirloom pipe corn will be milled by Pungo Creek Mills to make a very flavorful white cornmeal. There's never any waste on the farm!
Our heirloom corn growing on our farm in Accomack County, Virginia.
18th century clay pipe bowl and stem fragments excavated at our historic colonial plantation site.
Charred corn cob relic excavated from a root cellar at our 18th century plantation site.
"Virginia Planter" corn cob pipe made from the circa 1900 heirloom pipe corn grown and harvested on our Virginia farm.