BREWER HISTORICAL SOCIETY NEWSLETTER
“Today’s news is tomorrow’s history”
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T.C. Hanna , editor (989-2245)
Life is lived in the present but understood through the past.” …….Eric Pena based upon Soren Kierkegaard
The Brewer Historical Society would like to thank the following corporate sponsors and supporters
Camden National Bank
City of Brewer
Brewer Federal Credit Union
Brewer High School Air Force Junior ROTC
Brewer Parks and Recreation
Creative Print Services (Ray Curran)
Dead River Company
Eastern Maine Development Corporation
Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems
Joseph Ferris, Esq.
Getchell Brothers Inc.
Gold Star Cleaners
Green Thumb Lawn Service
Marsh Property Management
PC Help (David Winslow)
Rand / Rand Dentistry
Scotts Lawn Service
TradeWinds Convenience Store
|FRIENDS OF CHAMBERLAIN FREEDOM PARK
Allen / Freeman / McDonnell Insurance
Machias Savings Bank
(Thank you for your support of Chamberlain Freedom Park and the Brewer Historical Society)
|The Brewer Historical Society newsletter is copied using the facilities at Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems. Thank you to EMHS and their staff.)|
|The Brewer Historical Society would like to thank Matthew Vachon, City Councilor and Brewer City Liaison to the Historical Society, for sponsoring a hole in behalf of the Historical Society during the Joshua Chamberlain Golf Tournament
Brick Making in Brewer, Maine
By David Hanna for the Brewer Historical Society
The Brewer night sky glowed red. It was 1867. Fire was a constant threat at the time and entire towns had been devastated by such disasters. But, in this case the red glow indicated prosperity and the “firing” of a scove kiln of bricks. This was the brick making epoch in Brewer, Maine. Hundreds of molded bricks, made of clay and water, had been stacked in massive piles called a scove kiln. This scove kiln was built so that there were oven openings at the base and passageways for the heat to fire the bricks. Many cords of wood that had been logged in the area were stacked in the oven openings and set afire. The fire was kept at a constant temperature and fired the bricks continuously for nine days. During that time the evening sky was awash in color because of the “burning of the kiln”.
Brick is made of clay and water (and sometimes straw). Brewer clay traces its origins to the great glacial period of almost 50,000 years ago. Massive sheets of ice flowed south from the arctic, picking up rock and moving it along until the mass of ice, almost a mile thick in the Brewer area and weighing billions of tons, covered much of the North American continent. The weight of the ice pressed against the earth’s crust and formed deep depressions that created today’s topography. In addition, the weight of the ice ground the loose rock in much the way of a grinding machine. As temperatures warmed and the glaciers retreated, the ocean waters flooded the depressions. At one time the coast of Maine was 100 miles inland from its present location and Brewer was beneath the surface of the sea. In time, the ocean retreated and the crushed rock silt followed the flow. That silt formed the basis of Brewer’s clay and became the basis of a major industry. Brewer brick was made from fine gray clay and had an indefinite lifetime. Besides clay, it also takes water to make brick, up to 2000 gallons a day, and Brewer had plenty of water. There was not only the river, but the streams feeding it. Much of the water for making brick came from a brook near what was then the Holyoke brickyard.
How did brick making in Brewer originate and why was the finished product so good that it became a national standard for the country. (The United States government requirements for brick was “Brewer brick or the equal”). The first criteria can be found in the topography. Brewer was a town (now a city) built on the banks of the Penobscot River and the river was the fountainhead of many Brewer industries, including brick making. The base of clay soil had the correct minerals and consistency to produce and exceptional product. Originally, Brewer’s cache of topsoil covered clay, sloped vertically and away from the river banks. This allowed the soil to be cut on the vertical and the clay to be easily removed. But the brick yards, sometimes twenty operating at one time, terraced the slopes and created today’s landscape. Picture Brewer in the early 1800s. A single dirt road ran along the river joined by small trails that wound up the slopes into the woods and pastures. Now, picture Brewer today with its many areas of level land that allow for such features as the railroad bed of the Bucksport branch of Maine Central Railroad line, sports fields, an auditorium, and shopping areas.
Brewer also had the river. The Penobscot River is the second longest in Maine and longest in the contiguous state. It traverses several hundred miles into the Great North Woods. There, the extensive forests would find loggers cutting millions of board feet that were floated downstream on the spring freshet by river drivers. Bangor, the city across the river from Brewer, became the lumbering capital of the northeast and brought sailing ships which traveled the east coast and beyond. The sailing ships carried coal, pig iron and cement to the area .These ships had the capacity to transport heavy cargo and Bricks became a major product to fill their hold. The ship would sail with its hold filled with lumber, covered by 35,000 to 55,000 bricks, covered by bales of hay, and covered by a tarp to protect the cargo.
So, Brewer had the natural resources in the clay and the wood to fire it, along with the ships to transport it. An industry was born and flourished for 100 years. It provided the building material for many areas. Brewer brick has been shipped to Massachusetts, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, the West Indies and Newfoundland. After the great Boston fire in 1872, Brewer brick rebuilt much of the Beacon Hill area. There is also evidence that Fort Sumter in South Carolina was built of Brewer brick.
What began as an enterprising 18th century settler’s idea of scraping off the thin top soil of his land to reveal the clay beneath, then molding this clay into a finished product, became a major Brewer industry. This industry extended from its peak export era in the1850s through the 1950s. During the latter half of the 19th century there were about twenty yards operating simultaneously. Brickyards, including those owned by Gould, Dunn, Doherty, Gratian, Long, Farrington, and Holyoke, produced millions of bricks.
The last operating brick company, Brooks Brick was incorporated in 1906 and produced until 1956. Over the years they made many technological improvements inducing electrically driven machines making wire cut brick. Brooks Brick Company is still in Brewer, operating as a broker, and importing bricks from Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Canada and beyond.
Brick making is and always was a difficult labor. There are still a few citizens of Brewer that remember their teen-age years and working in a brickyard during the summer. The brick making season started in early May and continued through early October, with the first bricks ready to be fired by July. Each worker has stories to tell of arduous labor. In 1886 William Burke made about 1,000,000 bricks of “the best quality”. They sold for $5.50 per thousand. Burke employed eight to twelve men. These men received $30 to $50 a month, with board, despite the weather. The day began at 5AM and continued until 7 PM with three breaks for meals. Many of the laborers were Irish. It is important to remember that all of the process is hot “back-breaking” labor and we should have great respect for those who did it. Brick maker C.O. Farrington wrote a letter in 1859…..“Sirs: Having found from experience that turning bricks by hand is a long and tedious operation,. I have constructed an implement for doing the work to which I would respectfully call your attention. It is substantially built of the best materials and weighs less than five pounds. This edger was tried by several manufacturers this last season who gave it their unqualified approval. It does the work well and quickly. In one-half hour a person can learn to edge bricks three times as fast as by hand. Your orders are respectfully submitted.” ….Besides the “edger”, the Brewer Brick Cart originated in Brewer to make work easier.The cart had four wheels with straight axles. It was balanced for easier transport and had a drop-down front that allowed bricks to run out.
Brick making begins with the scraping and removal of the top soil to reveal clay below. This clay is plowed manually or by horse, piled, and transported by hand cart to a very large mixing tub. There it is mixed with water (and sometimes straw) until the proper consistency is obtained. This mixing was often done by horse power in which the animal walked the outside perimeter of the tub harnessed to a series of poles and a large paddle that rotated in the tub. The mixing process could take hours, but the thick slurry was then able to be siphoned into molds and pressed into a brick shape. These molds were transported by cart to open areas in the brick yard where they were carefully laid out on the ground in such a way as to be dried by the sun. Thousands of bricks would fill the yard. When the bricks dried they would be stored in covered sheds until they could be “fired”. When there were sufficient bricks, they would be stacked in an open area to form a scove kiln. The ground was leveled and sand spread over the area. Bricks were wheeled to the site and thrown to the “setter”, a man who placed the bricks, four at a time. The setter wanted to catch them at the exact location they were to be placed on the kiln, as they had to be placed correctly to stand up after being fired. The setter wore mitts as the brick could tear the skin off a workman’s hands. After the kiln was built, the scoving was put on the four sides. Scoving consisted of clay plastered on the outside, with sand in a box-like arrangement at the bottom forming the base for the scoving. A scove kiln could be a stack of 250,00 to 900,000 bricks, built several layers high,with open passages to allow uniform heating and an outside opening in the shape of a arched oven. Thirty arches made a million bricks. Wood was placed in the opening and pushed along the passages then set afire. The fire would require hundreds of cords of wood over the nine day burn. When there were seventeen brickyards they could use about 3000 cords per year.
Laborers would stack the bricks, cut the wood needed for the two weeks that the bricks were fired and constantly maintain the fire to a consistent temperature. The keeper of the fire was a highly trained and capable employee, because the temperature, which could reach 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, had to be precisely regulated so that all the bricks in the scove would be heated the same. At the end of nine days the fire was extinguished, the bricks allowed to cool and then stored for transport.
The brick making history of Brewer has ended now. The layers of clay have been harvested and supplanted by other industries. It is a matter of re-inventing the community based upon circumstances and resources at the time. But the legacy of these brick makers live on. Millions of Brewer Bricks can be found in thousands of buildings and hundreds of locations. It is a testament to those men that helped shape the future of their town and we salute them. As local historian Mildred Thayer wrote, “The brick making equipment is now silent, the brick cart stands empty and disconsolate, and the sky no longer glows with the flames of the burning kilns.”
William Hayes, Patricia Hanna, Benjamin Bragdon, Ernie Hein
Thayer, Mildred and Ames, Mrs. Edward, “Brewer Orrington Holden Eddington, History and Families”, Brewer 150th Anniversary Committee, L.H. Thompson Press, 1962.
“Bricks in Brewer Town, The Enterprising People Across the River Digs Wealth out of Clay Bricks”, Industrial Journal, October 15, 1856
Brooks, Harrison, “50,000 Years ago Ice Sheet Mile High over Bangor”, Bangor Daily News, September 14, 1956
Kenney, Howard, “The Brick Story, Unpublished
Wyman, Gerry, A Pictorial History of Brewer, Maine, Addendum to article on brick making. From discussion with Francis Muldoon
(The preceding article was published in “Memories of Maine” Magazine in the spring of 2015)
Brittany Goetting speaks to July Membership Meeting
Brittany Goetting was the guest speaker at the Brewer Historical Society July membership meeting. Brittany is a graduate student pursuing her PhD in the role of churches during the period around 1800 in Maine and Nova Scotia. She has also been working on a project with the Brewer First Congregational Church, organizing and archiving their historic accessions. This major landmark church was established around 1800 and has been the place of worship of such historic figures as John Brewer and the Chamberlain family. Brittany discussed the history of the church, discussed her project and brought some historic artifacts. She was presented a sign for the church that recognized the building as part of the Brewer Register of Historic Places.
Refurbishing of Chamberlain – Freedom Park
This summer Kristina Jacobs, a Penobscot County Master Gardener volunteer, undertook a project to create and develop the garden areas at Chamberlain-Freedom Park; the historical themed park leased from the Maine Department of Transportation and developed by the Brewer Historical Society. The Master Gardner Program was developed by the University of Maine and the Cooperative Extension program to provide classroom and practical experience designed to provide qualified students for community gardening projects. Kristina, under the guidance of Katherine Garland from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has created garden areas within the park utilizing native and hardy plants and sustainable gardening practices. With help from landscaper Eric Alexander, Kristina will fulfill her volunteer part of the program. In addition, Eric Alexander will be paid to help maintain the park along with the Brewer High School Air Force Junior ROTC and the members of the historical society.
This Master Gardener Volunteer program compliments the work that the Historical Society completed over the last year. That work included an Eagle Scout project by Sam Gardner to build a new bulwarks fence replacement. It also included the trimming of trees by Barney Thompson along with landscape maintenance by Bob Daigle, Lee Mathews and David Hanna. This year, the Historical Society replaced the weathered informational sign at the entrance to the upper level. This sign compliments the Brewer Register of Historical Places plaque, recognizing the historical importance of the site.
We hope that everyone will stop by the park and enjoy this important part of Brewer history.
Pot Luck Supper
The annual Brewer Historical Society Pot Luck Supper was held at the Clewley Museum parking area on August 9th. A good turn-out of members and perfect weather helped make this an enjoyable event. T.C. took a number of photographs that will be featured in this newsletter as an addendum. The supper gave everyone a chance to notice the projects that had been completed at the museum this summer.
Changes to the Clewley Museum
This summer the Clewley Museum continued to have upgrades and refurbishing…………..
All the building windows have been sided which completes the rejuvenation of the museum exterior. With a thank you to Matthew Vachon and the City of Brewer, a gravel driveway was completed which complements the new cedar stockade fence at the rear of the property. These changes present a neat and clean appearance when entering the property. Barney Thompson painted the entry steps which complements the great job he did painting the barn last year. The Historical Society recognizes a special thank you to Bill Grant who donated money for a new Brewer Historical Society sign. The sign also recognizes sponsors Marsh Property Management and Camden National Bank. All of this creative work has been the vision of Bill Hayes with support from Barney Thompson, Bob Daigle, Charlotte Thompson and carpenter Bob Hewes. Thank you to Charlotte Thompson and the Historical Society Board for providing the funds to make the museum campus look impressive.
|If anyone has a typewriter that could be loaned to the Historical Society, it would be appreciated. We need to label a number of folders and a typewriter does a good job and is easier that the computer. Contact David Hanna at 989-2245 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Brewer Days Spaghetti Supper and Silent Auction
The Brewer Historical Society had their annual spaghetti supper and silent auction at the Brewer Auditorium for “Brewer Days” on September 10th. This is our major fundraiser for the year and was very successful. The supper fed over 100 people spaghetti, salad, bread and dessert. Silent auction items were provided by thirteen Brewer businesses with other items donated by Historical Society members. Pies were new this year for dessert baked by members. Thanks to everyone who cooked, decorated and served. A Special thanks to Ken Hanscom and his Staff.
(Participating businesses for the silent auction): Tiller and Rye Grocery, Coach House Restaurant, High Tide Restaurant, Lowes, Traditions Golf Club, Salon Bonifacio, Pat’s Pizza, Kosta’s Restaurant, Bangor-Brewer Bowling Lanes, Mason’s Brewery and Pub, Miller’s Workshop, Merrill Blueberry, and Pa’s Workshop)