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Brown's Brickyard

Brown’s Brickyard was established on the north shore of Malletts Bay, Lake Champlain in 1856, when John Brown leased a 2½ acre (1.0 hectares) site east of Lost Cove from Loren Parmalee for a brickyard and drain tile factory. On March 29, 1860, John Brown and Henry Wood purchased 200 acres (81 hectares) on Lost Cove, on the north side of Malletts Bay, from Parmalee for brickmaking. The 1869 Atlas of Chittenden County, Vermont shows two adjacent locations for J. W. Brown’s brickyards, as well as the Stannard & Viele brickyard.


Nineteenth century view of Clay Point.
From Hager, Report on the Geology of Vermont, plate xxvii,
courtesy Arthur Cohn.

On April 1, 1862, Brown bought out Wood for $1000 then sold a ½ interest in the brickyard to George Oakes of Jericho for the same sum. In April 1864, Oakes and Brown purchased Lot #57, consisting of 100 acres (40.5 hectares), on the south side of Malletts Bay. A property that was likely used as a staging ground for shipping, known as “Shipman’s Landing”, is shown only a few hundred feet from lot #57 on the Atlas of Chittenden County. They sold the 30 acre (12.2 hectares) Lost Cove parcel to George Stannard and Benjamin Carpenter for $4000 in 1865, along with lot #57 for $1500. Carpenter then sold his interest to Eugene Viele and that portion of Brown’s Brickyard became the Stannard and Viele Brickyard.

The Stannard and Viele Brickyard operated until 1872, when the owners filed for bankruptcy and sold the brickyard to Samuel Platt and Romeo Hoyt. Strangely, the brickyard was not referred to as the Platt and Hoyt Brickyard until 1880; the Lost Cove site seems to have ceased operations after 1892.

After Brown sold his land and brickyard in 1865, he purchased several parcels of land in West Milton and a parcel of land at the end of Clay Point, on Malletts Bay. He started brickyards at both sites at this time; the yard at Clay Point became known as the Malletts Bay Brickyard and the West Milton site was known as the Brown Brickyard. Brown moved to West Milton in the 1870s, purchasing “Forsythe Place” in 1876 “to make sales of bricks to be made by me on the premises.” Brown expanded the Clay Point site in 1886, and purchased land at Milton Falls for brickmaking in 1894. With his son, Henry W. Brown, John Brown operated the two brickyards until 1899; both sites used water to transport the finished bricks.

Brickmaking

The nineteenth century brickmaking process involved several steps and required a site with readily available clay and sand deposits, a water source, and an open flat area for drying the bricks. The sites at Malletts Bay had all of these elements with the added attraction that Lake Champlain could be used as both a water source for mixing the clay then as a means of transportation for the finished bricks.

The first step in the brickmaking process was called “winning” the clay, or gathering it from the clay deposits. This job was done by hand with shovels, pick axes, and wheel barrows. Next, the clay was “tempered”; at Lost Cove the bricks were “water struck”, meaning that alternate layers of clay and sand were put in a pit, water was added, and the mixture was allowed to set. The tempered clay was shoveled out of the pit and into a pug mill or brick press to be mixed before being pressed into wooden brick molds. One man took the clay in handfuls and threw it into the molds, another man, called a “striker”, then took a board and “struck” off the excess clay. A good striker could make 12,000 bricks a day.

The hardened bricks were removed from the molds and laid out to dry in the sun. Drying racks were frequently used, but the bricks could also be dried on the ground. The kilns used to fire, or “burn”, the dried bricks were made of brick and were frequently built and dismantled with each “burning”. Wood was piled up and burned for a week to ten days to fire the bricks; wood was used to bring out the desired rosy-red color of the clay. After burning, the bricks were unstacked from inside the kiln, and moved to a location to prepare for shipping. Poorly fired bricks, or “klinkers”, were disposed of at a dump site.

Brickmaking required a considerable amount of space. The Stannard and Viele Brickyard at Lost Cove typifies the space need of this type of operation. Out of the 30 acre (12.2 hectares) Lost Cove parcel, approximately 3 acres (1.2 hectares) were dedicated to brickmaking. One acre (.4 hectare) of the clay deposit was used for winning clay; this area was conveniently adjacent to the sand deposit. A pit of approximately ¼ acre (.1 hectare) was used to temper the clay, and a ½ acre (.2 hectare) area adjacent to the pit was dedicated to pressing or molding the brick. An extremely flat ¼ acre (.1 hectare) section was used for the kiln site. This brickyard site also contained a streambed, paths to the wharf, and the remains of a stone wharf on the lake.

To perform the labor-intensive job of brickmaking, the Clay Point brickyard employed twenty men; combined with the workers at the West Milton Brickyard, as many as fifty men were employed by John Brown at his brickyards in 1892. A newspaper article from 1874 estimated the productivity of the brickyard: “Mr. Brown has a yard in operation at Mallett’s Bay, where he makes about 3,000,000 brick yearly, most of which are taken to supply the trade from the New York side.” In 1875, Brown took out an ad in the Burlington Free Press and Times for his bricks: “Brick!! Brick!! By the million or smaller quantities, at our yards, At Mallet’s Bay and Burlington. Also a few thousand Drain Tile…” It appears that the product from the West Milton Brickyard supplied the Vermont side of the lake, while the product from the Malletts Bay Brickyard primarily supplied the New York side.

Transporting the Bricks

In 1892 John Brown and his son, Henry, jointly purchased the canal schooner O. J. Walker to transport the finished bricks from the Malletts Bay Brickyard to the New York side of Lake Champlain. The Browns hired masters to operate the vessel, and when O. J. Walker was not employed carrying brick, it carried general cargoes up and down the lake. On May 11, 1895, the schooner was heavily deck-laden with a cargo of bricks from Brown’s Malletts Bay Brickyard. When O. J. Walker departed from the brickyard the weather was fair, but an unexpected storm rose quickly on the lake while the schooner was in transit, and the vessel off Burlington, Vermont. The captain and crew managed to abandon ship in time, but the cargo was lost and the cost of salvaging it was prohibitive. Today the wreck of O. J. Walker is part of the Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserve system; when scuba divers visit the wreck, the cargo of Brown’s bricks and tiles can still be seen.

While operating the brickyards, John Brown was awarded two patents for inventions. He received the first in 1872 for a water conducting device that was designed to “furnish a strong and durable conductor for water and other fluids; and it consists in a trough and water-pipe in combination with cement…” The second patent was for an “improvement in brick kilns which will save 1/3 the expense of burning bricks”; this was awarded in 1875. “The object of this invention is to economize fuel and time in “clearing” the kiln or expelling the water, steam, &c., and in burning the bricks, by covering the kiln in such a way as to bring the heat under more perfect control.” Both of these inventions were applied at the Malletts Bay Brickyard as evidenced by the base of the kilns and the water pipe which still exist.

 

Information Source:
Adam I. Kane, Christopher R. Sabick and Sara R. Brigadier, Lake Champlain Underwater Cultural Resources Survey, Volume VI: 2001 Results and Volume VII: 2002 Results. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2003.