Sepia Saturday

Sepia Saturday

Friday, September 16, 2011

Building with Brick in the New Country.....



As the United States was settled in it's early years the building of structures for actual protection from the elements was necessary. There were no condos to move into or highrise apartments.  Living in the woods and along the shore outside were the two options

The available timbers supplied wood and the use of manual labor produced wood products that would create instant shelter.  The early years were lean and the use of wood beams and mud worked well but as they survived they wanted better, so they moved  to building all wood structures.

In many ways the Cape Cod style house above resembles the earliest structures created in this country.  The windows then were smaller and the whole building was smaller.  Lean-to additions created more rooms and even saltbox house. In the originals mud and beam there was a hole in the roof to let the smoke out from the burning pit. Now they needed stone fireplaces attached so the building wouldn't burn down and even maybe brick could be used if they could buy them.


The technology from the old countries in which each of the settlers had come helped in developing brick making companies. It did become prevalent once communities became established.  The resulting product to resemble brick streets and cobblestones gave them ideas of things to make from the local clay resourcss. They could create brick fireplaces and use bricks for walls of their structures.


Through the years as the middle America's were settled,  towns would have pottery or brick factories set up along the rivers and in clay filled areas of the United States.  Iowa is filled with reserves of clay beneath some of the rich soils. Murray, Iowa had it's own brick factory west of town and as a result the earlier years of the town had a main street  lined with brick faced building. This brick building once stood as the fire station in Murray.

 The quality of brick varied throughout as different factories had low or high firing furnaces which are call kilns.  When you see brick crumbling on buildings, many times it is because it was a low fired brick. The clay may not be a predominate material as sand could be too high in proportion.  Low fired material never gets hot enough to make it able to weather the elements. The higher the heat the stronger the brick.

Stone laying was also popular in this country and as various sources were found, stone companies were developed.  It would be transported sometimes long distances. The stone could be produced for the facing of buildings and used for foundations. Some European influenced designs required a stone facade up to the first floor.



A state institution that was built north of my town has mostly brick buildings. The main large buildings all are fully covered with brick. The farm buildings that were created to do the agricultural work for the institution were also made of the same material. The farm buildings helped to store food for the residence to eat throughout the year.

I am assuming that there was a brick company in this area or that they were shipped in from our county seat town of Perry, Iowa.  They have a brick factory there yet today making bricks that are shipped throughout the United States. It has become an automated factory with train car sized containers being fired with shelves of brick inside.




An older outbuilding that I photographed in Maine was created with brick.  Because the east coast has been settled longer than where I live, this brick could have been made in the early 1800's or even before that.  The lighthouse that sits next to this structure was probably made of brick but they covered it with a concrete coating like frosting to cover up it's brick appearance.

As a side note of info, I was surprised to find that the round columns placed on the grand porches of the southern plantations some were actually made from bricks laid in a circular shape. Then they were plastered with concrete like material to be made round and smooth. Whitewashed or painted white they resemble the wooden ones.

My diversion from the Sepia Saturday original intent is a little broad this week but history is history. I enjoy watching the progression of the use of building materials in this country. When I find a brick buried in the ground I wonder it's age and where it is made.


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14 comments:

Brett Payne said...

Interesting article and great photos, Larry. I too share your interest in bricks, I think instilled into me by my father. Many have no markings to indicate where or when or by whom they were made, but many do. If you're interested, read this story (in three parts, so you'll have to have some stamina) of how I acquired my heaviest - also perhaps my most valued - family heirloom!

Postcardy said...

I like bricks with built in identification like the Purington Paver.

Bob Scotney said...

Before we were married my wife worked for a comapany in the UK making refractory bricks. At a Lincolnshire steelworks we had a brick plant at which we tried to make bricks from iron oxide sludge - but had to give up as it ceased up the brickmaking machines. The humble brick is something we take for granted.

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

I remember being told, I can't even remember where or why, that in some places bricks were prized so much that buildings were built in stone and faced with bricks. The reverse was true in other places and buildings built in brick but faced in stone.

Marilyn said...

Very interesting post, the photos are great. It was much the same in NZ, all of the early houses were wooden, in fact so many still are. The very early settlers, unless they had money and sometimes even then, had very primitive dwellings with packed mud floors for their first homes.

Alan Burnett said...

History is indeed history, Larry - and such fascinating history as well. House building materials say such a lot about social and economic history and you have certainly taught me a lot about the background to brick buildings in America.

Little Nell said...

I actually rather like that former fire station. It’s quite a smart building with the contrast of red brick and white fascias. It’s almost a pity the photo has the truck and tractor in it!

Christine H. said...

Wow, I'm trying to imagine the work involved in making circular columns out of bricks. Very interesting post.

Tattered and Lost said...

Here on the west coast it's redwood. A lot of construction was done by cutting the ancient redwoods down. Now the trees the ancient ones are mostly protected, but redwood is still used. I have walls in my home that are redwood.

I love the brick homes in the midwest and east. Also get them in Oregon and Washington state.

Lord Thomas of Wellington said...

Great photos. This weekend we went over by the little old town I was born in and went by the house I was born in and raised until I was in my early 20s.

Liz Stratton said...

Now you have me wondering about the recycled brick in my house. Where did it come from? What is it's story?

There is also a dry-layed stone retaining wall in the yard. I was told once that there are only a handful of people left who can do the work (or even repairs) on the walls.

Pat transplanted to MN said...

This was a truly fascinating read about building, settling and brick. A few years ago visiting and touring S. Louis we learned how it was a huge brick making force for the country and many of the St. Louis bldgs are brick from back when. I did not know about the Iowa beickyard and mfg. In PA, the wealthier folks in the area always built their homes of brick, or so the stories went. I often wondered if the fondness for brick might have come from the 3rd and surviving homeowner pig in the tale of the 3 Little pigs.
I always try to look at dates on bricks.

Crystal Mary said...

I know bricks are less to care for and the structures are probably better, but I love timber best. I read all of the "Little house on the prarie" books and they had timber houses with lean-to's.They also had trouble with chimneys catching on fire.
I loved at the end where you wrote, when you find a brick it makes you wonder where it came from.
I look out for groups of trees when we are out driving in the country. It usually means that someone has planted them and a house was once there. This makes me wonder about the occupants, who they were, what was their life like?.. The past is so interesting, people come and go and the world revolves on. There is a sadness in that..and yet, thats life.

Karen said...

I was always fascinated by the making of brick from red Georgia clay when I was a child. Interesting post and pics, Larry.