Brick travels for many reasons. Maybe someone built a brick structure in a town without a brick kiln. Perhaps somebody preferred the look of brick made elsewhere—or got a better deal on it, even with shipping costs. In such cases you’d expect to find a lot of those bricks in the area, especially after tear-downs and burnouts. Some brick, however, just show up with no simple explanation of why or how they got there. The historic Texas brick below traveled from county to county and are accompanied by others who arrived in Texas from distant states and abroad. Their reasons for travel range from mysteriously accidental to obviously intentional. One was hauled as a gift from Wales.
Those with maker marks reveal their origins, and sometimes life span. Those without become a double mystery. All bear an aura of age, many from the nineteenth century; and, together, they represent the range of production methods from their time: hand-molded, machine-molded, and extrusion…employing soft-mud, stiff-mud and dry-press materials.
Distant Travelers & Historic Texas Brick
Buffalo of Kansas
This BUFFALO branded brick was salvaged from a circa 1950 portion of Fort Worth’s Westcliff Shopping Center, begun about 1945. The Buffalo Brick Company of Buffalo, Kansas, began production in 1902 and became Buffalo Brick & Tile Co. in 1939. In 1954 the plant was leased by Acme Brick Co. of Fort Worth until 1966, then demolished in 1972.
Nassau of Long Island
NASSAU marked bricks were made by the Nassau Brick Co. near Farmingdale, Long Island, New York. The Nassau Brick Company was originally established as Post Brick in 1865. In the 1870s it was acquired by Alexander T. Stewart, the original developer of Garden City. In the 1880s it was named the Queens County Brick Manufacturing Company. New owners renamed It Nassau Brick Co. in 1936, honoring the new county name. This brick came alone to Fort Worth from Garden City on Long Island. No mystery here: the same family owned property in both places.
Homewood of Baltimore
This HOMEWOOD brick is a total mystery. It simply showed up at the donation station of the Salvation Army, Adult Rehabilitation Center. We know that it is a product of the Baltimore Brick Company organized in 1899, that this brand was registered in 1926, and that production continues to this day through ownership by Boral Industries of Australia. For more history see: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1991-03-26/news/1991085127_1_brick-homewood-milva
Clearfield of Pennsylvania
CLEARFIELD fire brick were made in hand-powered presses by W. H. Wynn & Co., established in 1873 at Blue Ball, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. How this one found its way into a Fort Worth driveway is anybody’s guess. Texas had too many nearby fire brick makers to need imports.
Tapestry of Boston
This rare Tapestry vitrified brick with its corduroy surface came all the way from Fiske & Co. in Boston and ended up as a paver in Fort Worth. It appears to have been made before WW I. “Tapestry” was a premier brick, highly advertised since about 1904 as “The only Tapestry Brick in the World. Look for the Name Stamped on Every Brick.” Modern versions of the line are still available through the company headquarters in New York City.
“Flint” Fire Brick Bat
Found, April 2013, alone within a pile of horizontally cleated Thurber pavers near the former Swift Packing Plant in North Fort Worth, Texas. This branded bat is apparently a “Flint” fire brick made by the W. S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company of Kansas City, Missouri, at their Versailles MO plant. The Swift & Company plant, built in 1903, closed in 1971. Thurber was the primary supplier of a variety of plain and cleated pavers, while Acme Brick and Athens Brick were the recorded providers of structural brick for this massive four-story, multi-building meat packing plant. Obviously, some fire brick must have been necessary for the rendering furnaces. For language purists, this source town is pronounced “Ver-sayles” by the locals.
Catalina 3 Island Octagon
Octagonal 1″-thick brick paver salvaged from a home built in 1923 at Avalon, Catalina Island, California. That was the same year that William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum heir, founded the Catalina Pottery and Tile Company in order to provide building materials for the island’s development. His company produced brick, tile and pottery from the local, red clay; much was used in the Catalina Casino. By the early 1930s, however, the plant became better known for its artistic glazed tiles and pottery, and the company was known as Catalina Clay Products. It was sold to Gladding, McBean and Co. in 1937, moved to the mainland and soon adsorbed into that firm. No mystery over how this CATALINA 3 ISLAND paver traveled to Fort Worth: it came by UPS as a gift. For more history see “Cultural Resources Assessment Southern California Edison Catalina Garage . . . ” by Judith Marvin.
Francis Vitrified Paver
This FRANCIS VITRIFIED BRICK from Boynton, Oklahoma, weighs 8 lbs. 2 oz.—versus its slightly shorter Thurber rival with the BTT union triangle at 7 lbs. 3 oz. The hefty paver (and others) came from a demolished 1920s house in west Fort Worth, Texas. It must have had some not-so-obvious virtues to compensate for shipment from OK to a land so abundantly paved with the far more proximate Thurbers. Information about Francis Vitric Brick Company appears in the Boynton Index, May 12, 1916: www.newspapers.com/newspage/5694113/
Historic Texas Brick . . . and a Mexican Traveler
Two bricks—each found in Groesbeck, Texas—alone among random, separate piles and unrelated to any nearby structures. Neither revealed its reasons for being at Groesbeck where so many other brick from nearby kilns prevail.
The first of the bricks appears to be roughly inscribed as possibly “C Elliott,” has some characteristics of a pressed or re-pressed brick; however, the reverse side is rough and unfinished, almost of a cinder-like texture and also showing a slight lip on one edge. It is of U.S. standard size: 8½” x 4″ x 2½”, and weighs 5 lbs. 8.6 oz. We found no clue to its source or history, but kept searching.
Mystery Solved September 2015: Historic Texas Brick
Charles Elliott, a former slave, was a brick manufacturer in Hearne, Robertson County, 1890-91. The town of Groesbeck is 49 miles north, in Limestone County.
The second Groesbeck sighting, a brick fragment, is quite soft with irregular surfaces on all sides, rounded edges and no indication of being hard-fired. Its remaining inscription lies within a recess with beveled edges and appears as * * E M E preceded by a partial letter U. This bat is 3½” x 2 3/8″ with no positive indication of its original length, and weighs 2 lbs. 4.9 oz. The lower line is its strongest clue to origin: * * * * * SA – MEXICO inscribed on up the curve.
Data garnered from Scott Cook’s book reveal that this brick is a product of Tueme‘s brickyard at Reynosa, Mexico: one of the many “little wood-firing plants” of the “campero system” during the 1960s into the 1980s. See Cook’s Mexican Brick Culture in the Building of Texas, 1800s—1980s, page 215 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998). For photos of this handmade process see Reynosa Brick Co. at www.brokebrick.com/brickyard.htm.
Florida Find … Hand Printed Brick
Serious collectors will call this unbranded traveler a “vanilla.” It does, however, bear its maker’s inadvertent mark—the indentations of four fingers on one side and a thumb on the other. The hand span is small, as should be expected from its likely origin and time from a century past. It was retrieved from a trash heap near near restored brick buildings of the 1880s in downtown Ybor City, Florida. Its maker may have been one of many immigrants of that time from Cuba, Spain, Italy or even Germany. In that era, the handler may easily have been a working child.
This soft-mud “hand printed” brick is 7¾” x 3⅞” x 2½” and weighs 4 lbs. 7 oz. (with about 10 percent missing). It can be gouged with a penny. Strike mark lines, perforated and parallel to the facing edge, appear on the thumb side and one face.
Ybor City, Florida, was established about 1880 by Vincente Martinez Ybor, a native of Spain and cigar maker in Cuba who first fled to Key West when the Cuban rebellion against Spain began fomenting. Backed by the Tampa Board of Trade, Ybor City quickly blossomed as a cigar-making center and was annexed by Tampa in 1885. Several of the first large buildings were cigar factories, made of brick and still standing, as is most of the downtown.
Migratory Bat Bearing Clues
How, why and when did a California fire brick bat end up in Limestone County, Texas, alone among a pile of other fire brick from Missouri and Texas?
Identifying a migrating bat is always challenging: the smaller, the more so. This one, about 45 percent of its original size, gives several clues. Its coarse texture, iron oxide specks, buff color and end measurement of 4 by 2¼ inches are characteristic of a fire brick. The remaining inscription “& C. Co” implies “Something and Clay Company.” The lower partial line, “ouis,” implies St. Louis, an early source for many fire brick in Texas.
Deduction plus trial-and-error eventually led to Dan Mosier, California Brick Collectors: http://calbricks.netfirms.com/brick.stlouisbm.html
Dan Mosier’s definitive article named the maker and corrected both the source and brand assumption: “The St. Louis Fire Brick & Clay Co. was incorporated on August 13, 1901 in Los Angeles, California. . . These bricks were given brand names of ST. LOUIS, LION, CALIFORNIA, EXCELSIOR, and others.” [The serif style brick] “was inscribed ST LFB. & C. Co” (on a line above the brand name) . . . they probably range from sometime after 1901 to 1930. Length 9, width 4½, height 2½ inches.” The plant closed in 1949.
This bat now appears to be identified, but its journey remains a mystery.
Pontypool Welsh Traveler with Bathtub Frog
Rising like the Phoenix from a mammoth pile of brick of many brands that once was a Welsh mining operation (closed in the 1930s) near its birthplace of Pontypool, Monmouthshire, this hearty survivor made its way to America.
At 9¼” x 4½” x 3″, weighing 8 lbs. 13.5 oz., the robust PONTYPOOL BRICK CO. traveler raised serious questions with U.S. Customs and Transportation Security before becoming the centerpiece of an Arlington, Texas, dining table.
See http://www.penmorfa.com/bricks/wales1.html for more history of Welsh brick and this information from Lawrence Skuse: “Possibly the most prolific of the Eastern Valley brick works, Little Mill Brick Co . . . operated at Little Mill, Pontypool, possibly as a successor to J Burgoyne. The company is first listed in the 1922 Kelly’s and it operated until the 1980s.”
“Bathtub” frogs, seldom seen in Texas brick, appear rather frequently in Welsh brick, especially from this region and era, for example: Thorne & Sons’ Ely Brick Works; Oak Brick Works at Pontypool; and Penrhos near Ystradgynlais, Powys.
A Pyro in Oglesby, Texas?
One lone PYRO fire brick (a standard 9¼” x 4½” x 2½”, weighing 7 lbs. 4 oz.) appeared in the rubble of this small brick building, now in some stage of demolition at Oglesby, Texas.
PYRO presents no recorded history of production within Texas; therefore, it may be from the Pyro Clay Products Co., Oak Hill, Ohio. (The Iron Trade Review, Vol. 46, June 30, 1910, and Blast Furnace & Steel Plant, August 1920) Several fire brick makers existed in Texas during this time, some reasonably nearby, such as the Texas Fire Brick Company—raising the question of why this one had to come from elsewhere.
The structure reveals no additional PYROs in its three-wythe walls of hand-molded red brick, and no reason for fire brick—unless it is a long-gone bank’s vault. Since the metal and 2′ x 4′ roof is likely more recent, perhaps it may have been an ice house or a town calaboose.
In 1912, Oglesby claimed the brief and obscure Wilburn Brick & Tile Co.; however, the town presented no evidence of that brick. (Brick & Clay Record, Vol. 40; Clay Worker, Vols. 57-58), Oglesby of Coryell County, Texas, was established 1882, hit its peak in the 1920s and now has about 470 citizens. The original downtown has many vacant lots but no defining building slabs.
Virginia Slave-Made Brick
This particular brick’s life story is far more intriguing than its brief journey west. It began, crafted by slaves, more than a century and a half ago on a plantation near the James River in west-central Virginia. Its birthplace, now a prosperous private farm, guards the wrought iron-fenced cemetery commemorating its makers’ owners’ lifetimes between 1832 and 1904…but not the slaves themselves. Memorials to Confederate officer and political activist William (“Little Billy”) Mahone sprinkle the region.
The brick is 8 to 8⅛ inches long, 4¼” wide and 2½” deep, weighing 5 lbs. 12 oz.—only slightly less dense than Thurber pavers of the same dimensions, and more so than many commons. Traces of fine-grained mortar remain on five sides. Faint striations from the maker’s strike board run absolutely parallel to the edge. Heat cracks and tinges of smoke permeate about an inch of one end, suggesting that this brick may have once been part of the cabin’s chimney and placed slightly above direct flame.
Its lack of degeneration confirms historians’ observations: that slave-made brick tended to be of much higher quality than that from their convict-labor replacements during Reconstruction, and certainly better than sun-dried and clamp kiln brick, common throughout the 1880s, before the advent of hard pressing and firing.
U. M. P. — What do you see?
Of unknown source, appearing to be inscribed “U. M. P.” and hand-molded, this brick was found in an arroyo through what was once an extensive ranch bordering southwest Fort Worth, Texas, at the turn of the century. It weighs 4 lbs. 7 oz., with a missing corner; measures 8⅜” x 4″ x 2½”; and reveals no strike marks on any surface.
Other brick and bats found nearby tend to be either soft- or stiff-mud, hand-molded and without branding; or a mélange of residential construction castoffs from the later 1970s. Historic Texas brick? Or from elsewhere?
Any ideas about the identity, source or maker of this brick would be a great help. If you have clues, please contact us.
This unidentified perforated brick with three quatrefoil cores measures 8″ x 3 ¾” x 2½ “, weighing a notable 5 lbs. 3.3 oz. It and a few others appeared in the rubble of a concrete and metal grain storage facility, once at 505 North East 21st Street, Fort Worth, Texas—formerly Niles City before its annexation.
Sanborn fire charts indicate that structures for a mill, elevator, four large grain tanks, eight smaller tanks and a nearby warehouse had been built by 1906 for the Panther City Grain Co., with primary facilities directly across the street. Also known as Texas Grain & Elevator Co., and later as Scott Bros. Grain Co., these structures continued to appear on Sanborn charts until 1951. Only the concrete slabs remain. Northeast 21st Street remains paved with several blocks of pavers branded Francis / Boynton, Okla. / Vitric B. Co. before dead-ending at a fence and rail track. The Francis Vitric Brick Company began production in 1910 at Boynton, Oklahoma, four years after this structure.