Finding the Brickyard

In Brickyard Creek Chronicles, Chapter 4: Naming the Creek, we gave you a brief history on the development of a brickyard at Roy’s Point by Col. Rudd. Rudd had leased the land at Roy’s Point from William Dalrymple. The Bayfield Brick Manufacturing Company was only in operation from 1889 to 1892, probably coming to its demise as the result of the Financial Panic of 1893.

The clay that was used for the bricks was said to be “superior in richness, color, weight, strength and freedom from lime”. Based on the buildings in Bayfield that used the bricks, the color of the clay was a deep red. While we knew that a “fine stream of water” ran across one corner of the clay bed, the actual location of the brick plant remained a mystery – until now – maybe.

Map on graph paper showing the location of the old brickyard

Rough map of brickyard location. Click image to enlarge.

Over the 4th of July, 2022 weekend, Sophie Lane residents, K.C. Lerner and Nancy Leff, were visited by their friend Jeff Twining, a brick historian from Texas. Jeff very graciously shared his knowledge about brick making and what clues to look for in locating an abandoned brick plant. The low-cost technology commonly used in the 1890’s produced a “soft mud”, sand-struck brick.

The clay was dug using a scraper pulled by a team of mules or horses, leaving a pit or depression. The clay was then pressed into a rectangular mold that had been subdivided into four to six sections. The molds were wetted down and covered on the bottom and sides with sand, which acted as a lubricant so that the bricks could be removed from the mold, leaving a gritty surface on the brick.

Once the clay was in the mold the worker would have scraped off the excess so that the top of the brick would have a smooth surface. Breakage occurred at every step of the manufacturing process, producing remnants called “brickbats” which were tossed into a reject pile called a “midden”. These middens were typically located in close proximity to the kiln.

Once dried and fired in the kiln the finished bricks would have been stored in large stacks out in the open air. Based on a railway survey map the brick drying and stacking yard was located on the south side of the creek where the marina parking area is now located.

So – what we needed to find was a depression created by a scraper, along-side a creek, and a midden of “soft mud” red brick remnants that were smooth on top and gritty on the sides and bottom. While bricks have been found in the lake and at various places around the community, there was only one place that met the description Jeff had provided. so off we went in search of a midden.

From the marina we walked across the bridge and there, on the north side of the creek, was the area Jeff was looking for where the clay would have been scraped out from the side of the hill.

Pile of crushed bricks surrounded by green foliage

Remnants of a brickpile found in the woods. Click image to enlarge.

At the top of the hill we met Doug Cybela who took Jeff to a large overgrown pile of discarded dark red brick, much of which was gritty on the bottom but smooth on the top. Jeff said that, in his opinion, these brickbats were of the same composition as the fully-formed bricks that were used for the Curry Bell Block on Rittenhouse and Second Street.

Based on all these observations Jeff stated that he believed the brick kiln would probably have been located on the site of the Cybelas’ house where William Knight’s sawmill was constructed in 1900.

And there you have it – Probably.

The Brickyard Creek History Chronicles are being shared with you by Brickyard Creek community member, Mary E. Carlson.

She explains, “As we look out at Buffalo Bay and Basswood Island, we can’t help but think of those who came before us to this beautiful place.

She started her historical quest in 2007 and is sharing her finds in this ten-part series below. Her book, On the Streets of Bayfield, is available at the Bayfield Heritage Center

Mary E. Carlson

Author - On the Streets of Bayfield