Carleton County Brickyards1

by

H. M. Deakin

 

How did I become interested in the now defunct brickyards in the area? There certainly wasn't any glamour about them, I guess they typified our forefathers — hard work.

Brickyards were active in the Woodstock area for about seventy-five years, from the 1850s to 1928.

As near as we can tell, because records are very scarce, brickmaking was originally started on the river bank in Grafton by the partnership of Eli Sharp and Enoch Campbell in the 1850s. They started what was known as a "mud mill." Eli, a grandfather of Heber Sharp2, died in 1866, and evidently Mr. Campbell sold out to an N. T. Baker3, who had started a brickyard on the Duthie farm on the Connell Road. He abandoned the Meduxnakeag yard for the Grafton Pit probably because of superior clay. He sold out to the Pike brothers from Muniac in 1894.

The Pikes

Steve Pike was born on the Belldoon River in Restigouche County. He learned the brickmaking business in Saint John. In 1890, he moved to Muniac with two brothers, John and Tom. They started making bricks by hand. Later, they purchased a machine from Engand to make the work easier and to increase production.

The Pikes purchased the Baker yard in 1894 where they made brick for about four years, selling out to William McDonald of Woodstock, who ran it until his death in 1909.

William McDonald also owned a tavern on Queen Street, thought to be located where Leo Rose's store4 is now. Mr. Myles Bragdon also remembers that McDonald owned a very fine pair of horses which Howard Nelson, a colored man, drove, bringing the brick from Grafton to Woodstock to be loaded on cars on the railroad.

The Northampton Brick Company, Limited, was organized in July, 1909, incorporating the following men: J. Albert Hayden, Frank B. Carvell, Arthur L. Burpee, C. Duncan Jonnston, and George L. Burpee. It was organized for the purpose of making and selling bricks of all kinds5, tile, pipes and earthenware, and carried a stock of $4,800.00. Arthur Burpee was the man who actually ran the yard, and he was well liked.

The Northampton Company sold out to Harry Bell, who lost it to Howard Burtt, who sold it to Heber Sharp, who found, after running it for a few years, that competition from Ryan's in Fredericton was getting tougher, and thought that he had better close down before he lost everything he had. Besides, the clay in Grafton by now had 10 feet of overburden and was costing too much to get out.

What is a brick? The encyclopedia describes a brick as a mixture of clay or mud with straw to hold the material together. It is then dried in the sun. Brick has been made since pre-Egyptian days. Southwestern Indians used adobe bricks to make their homes.

There were several brickyards in Carleton County:

1.   The Grafton yard6.

2.   The Smith yard on Lane's Creek, owned by Sidney Smith. It was situated on the property now owned by Ejnar Hansen. (See History of Upper Woodstock by Maud Henderson Miller.)

3.   The Baker yard on the Meduxnakeag.

4.   There was one at the lower end of town near the present Government Garage.

5.   The Pike yard at Muniac.

6.   A yard was situated on lower Main Street where the G. E. Barbour building is now7.

Very little is known about any of those except the Grafton yard, and even in this case, written records and photos are very scarce.

How did they make bricks? Clay was dug out of the banks and wheeled by barrow to the mill. Later steam was used by William McDonald, which cut down some of the real hard work. The clay was put into the top of the mill which was run by two or three horses on a forty foot arm, walking round and round in a circle. This caused the clay to work its way down through the baffles and knives into the press box and then into the moulds. The man taking off the moulds then "strikes off" which is taking the excess clay from the top of the moulds with a large two-edged knife, working from the center of the brick both ways, so as to keep the edges of the brick true.

The moulds were made of wood, 8¼ x 2¼ inches. There were orignally 4 bricks to a mould, later five, then six. The moulds had to be kept wet and dusted with fine sand after each use so that the wet clay bricks would come out of the moulds. Modern bricks are 8 x 4½ inches.

The moulds were dumped on small pallets or tally boards measuring 10 x 5 x ½ inch. They were then taken by wheelbarrow to the yards for drying on the "Hake." Bricks were piled eight or nine high on their edge. At the end of the day soft bricks or "bats" were placed on top of the green brick, then a saddle board, such as we put on our roofs, was put in place to protect them from the weather.

After the green brick had dried enough, usually about ten days, it was taken by wheelbarrow to the kiln for firing.

A word about wheelbarrows. The wheelbarrow used for moving the green brick to the yards was an ordinary one only longer, carrying about forty bricks, but it was set with springs to keep the bricks from jarring and breaking.

The barrow used in the yard had a very large wheel that came up through the center of the platform. When loaded with eighty to one hundred bricks it was perfectly balanced and easy to operate.

A favorite expression of early brickyard days was "Wigs on the Green," which meant "There's trouble," usually when there was something wrong with the clay in the moulds.

The Kilns

There were two types of kilns, originally an open one, then, later, a down draft kiln.

The open kiln was built each time there was a firing. There was a board roof on top for the first few days to protect from the weather. The sides and ends were mortared with clay to make them air tight. The fires had to be brought along slowly for a few days to allow for evaporation of moisture.

The down draft kiln at Grafton was built by George Stagg for Wiliam McDonald about 1900.

Usually two kilns were built side by side. They were about forty feet long with six furnaces along the outside of each kiln. After the kiln or kilns were filled and sealed, a brick was left loose in one end so that it was possible to look at the bricks inside from time to time. Then the fires were started. Only soft mill wood was used from the saw mills. This was in good supply and cheap. It took one cord of mill wood per one thousand bricks. These fires had to be kept going steadily for at least nine days and nights.

The flames from the furnaces came up over the bricks and down the side, thereby giving even heat through all the bricks. Some bricks on the bottom did not get as hot. They were called soft bricks or "bats" and were used for many purposes around the yard.

Wages and Prices

1.   Sharp Campbell — It is not known for sure, but probably $3 - 5 per thousand.

2.   William McDonald paid wages of $1.00 to $1.25 per day. Bricks sold for $8.00 per thousand.

3.   Herbert Price, father of Earl Price who lives on the South Newburg Road, worked for Baker for $5.00 per month and board.

4.   George MacDougall, aged eighty-seven, from Muniac, came down to Grafton with the Pikes. He received $1.00 for a ten hour day. He told me ten thousand bricks per day was a good day's work.

George MacDougall is a great story teller, one being: It seems that years ago he had a woods camp up the Colony near Bonnecord where there was a small lake of about two acres nearby. One day the water disappered and every one was asking why. He told them he looked out of the camp and saw a large flock of Canada Geese come in and settle on the lake. George said it was a very cold night, and when he looked out early the next morning, the geese were all frozen into a solid sheet of ice. Finally, the leader started to honk, and the whole flock took off, taking the ice with them and consequently all the water. There must be some truth to the story, because the dry lake can still be seen. . . . . .

5.   Heber Sharp told me he got from $13 - 15 per thousand brick in 1928.

Bricks are presently selling for $100.00 per thousand.

I talked to Mrs. William MacDougall whose husband worked at the Grafton yard under the Pikes, William McDonald and Arthur Burpee. She ran the boarding house with her sister, Mrs. Del Clark of Grafton, from 1907 to 1918. She boarded about twenty-five men at a time for $3.00 per week. She said the work was very hard, and that it was a big job keeping the boarding house clean.

Some of the buildings around Woodstock that were built from Grafton brick are: the C. N. R. Station, the Bank of Montreal, J. Clark & Son, N. B. Telephone, Bank of Nova Scotia Home, Miss Gilliland's home, Gerald Phillips home, the inside brick in the L. P. Fisher School (the outside came from Milton's of Montreal), and the back wall of the Capitol Theatre Building8.

Some of the old time masons who used local brick were Bill, Sam and Enoch Steeves, Tom Hagerman, Bill Babkirk, Frank Berryman, and Arthur Bragdon (brother of Myles).

Brick making is just one of the many industries that flourished and died in Carleton County, and it is not known if it will ever be revived. There is plenty of clay available to make top quality brick.

The writing of this paper has brought home very forcibly to me the urgent necessity for all of us to interview our older citizens as soon as possible. They have a real contribution to give in writing up further stores on the now defunct industries, such as the foundaries, carriage and furniture factories, the steel mils, the grist mills, and the tanneries, etc.

 

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  1.   A paper presented 29 March, 1963, to the Carleton County Historical Society, Woodstock, N.B., by the late Harry M. Deakin.

  2.   Heber P. Sharp (1891-1976) resided next above the Grafton Cemetery. In addition to the brickyard, he owned extensive property on both sides of the highway.

  3.   N. T. Baker is listed as brickmaker and farmer, residence Connell Street, Woodstock, on the 1876 Roe & Colby map of Carleton County.

  4.   Rose's store was located on the South side of Queen Street, rear of the MacLauchlan building.

  5.   "Fire bricks" from the Grafton yard, large, yellowish, unglazed bricks, can probably be found in the fireplaces of many older homes in the area.

  6.   The Grafton brickyard occupied the land north of Campbell's Brook, on the East side of the road. The remains of the kilns and pieces of machinery were visible in the late 1940s. The land is presently occupied by the N. B. Highway Department.

  7.   Corner of Lower Main and Bull Street, opposite St. Gertrude's Church.

  8.   The C.N.R. station on Charles Street and the Bank of Montreal that stood at the corner of Main and King Streets, on the bank of the Meduxnakeag, were both demolished. The L. P. Fisher school, on Green Street, burned in 1966, and the site is now the playground of the present Middle School. The J. Clark & Son Ltd. building still stands at 105 Connell Street; the New Brunswick Telephone building remains at the corner of Regent and Main Streets; the former Bank of Nova Scotia residence is located at 114 Victoria Street, and the house at 111 Victoria Street is probably also constructed of Northampton brick. The "Miss Gilliland" house, 126 Chapel Street, and the former Gerald Phillips residence, 706 Main Street, also survive.

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