Friday, August 26, 2016

Chicago Brick

Old Chicago brick is wanted all over the world. There are companies that are basically brick brokers. They salvage the bricks from a Chicago building that is being torn down and then sell them.

There were so many brick buildings in Chicago because, after the 1871 fire, a new city ordinance required that new buildings in the downtown area use fire resistant materials. Fortunately, Chicago was the lake bottom of the glacial lake that was 60 feet higher than our current Lake Michigan during the last ice age. So there are significant deposits of clay that were suitable for making bricks. Several brick companies formed along what is now the North Branch Canal and dug clay pits along what became that canal. (Ogden finished digging the canal so that he would have more lake front properties that he could sell to industries that wanted ship access such as lumber yards.) The land between the North Branch of the Chicago River and Clybourne and between Diversey and Fullerton was also pocked with clay pits. William Deering filled in those pits creating an 85-acre plot in the city on which he built his Deering Harvester Company Plant(The Chicago River An illustrated History and Guide to the River and Its Waterways, 2nd Edition, 2006, David M. Solzman, p.81)

As the little clay pits in the downtown area played out and the land was reused for other applications, bigger deposits of clay further from downtown were used. Two that I have found so far are the Cary and Blue Island brick works.

BrickColecting
Note that other river towns in Northeast Illinois also had brick works, for example Streator, IL. It had four shale and clay working factories making brick, tile, and sewer pipe. When I researched the railroads of Streator, I read that the Streator brick industry flourished after the 1871 fire. One of the companies must have survived until recently because it was still on the Brick Collection history page, but the link is now broke. The invention of steel-framed buildings that allowed a lot of glass to be used in the walls for sunlight was probably a significant blow to the brick making industry.

Cary Brick Works


1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP
Chicago History explains that Cary Brick Works had created a big pit digging out clay for bricks. It had also built a big tailings hill next to that pit. (In this case the tailings would be dirt, gravel, etc.) The combination of the hill and the pit provided a 285-foot vertical drop --- the highest within hundreds of miles. This steep incline was turned into a ski resort called Thunder Mountain. (I could not find the drop of Four Lakes which was made from the tailings and pit of a surface coal mine.)

I'll let you read Chicago History about Thunder Mountain, I'm more interested in the brick works. This 1938 aerial photo shows the works was between Diversey and Fullerton and between Normandy and Narragansett.

Satellite
It is now big-box and strip mall retail stores including The Brickyard and plenty of suburban style parking. What amazes me is that the track for the Milwaukee branch that went through the yard to Diversey still exists including the crossing at Grand Ave. I don't see an exempt sign on the crossing so that means school buses and trucks carrying flammable liquids still must stop traffic to look for a train that will never exist. Certainly Target and Home Depot will never have rail service. And judging from the size of the trees growing in the tracks, this building will never see rail service again.

From ChicagoTonight
The Carey brickyard actually continued in operation during the ski resort era and beyond. They made Chicago common bricks. Carey was the last place that made these bricks. The kilns needed to produce these didn’t meet modern environmental standards and Carey closed in 1980.   Today whenever a brick building is torn down, companies are brought in to salvage the bricks and re-use them. [ChicagoTonight]

Blue Island Illinois Brick company's Yard 22

Steve OConnor shared
The clay pit of the Illinois Brick Company in Blue Island which eventually the city would turn into a park. Note the small industrial steam locomotive working the pit.
Fullton Grace I believe this is the area immediately south of 123rd street between Kedzie and California. Between the Grand Trunk and B&O tracks. This clay pit at one time also connected, via train tunnel to another quarry that ran between 123rd and 119th street. It was filled in with garbage and later made into a golf course.
Steve OConnor commented on above posting

Steve OConnor commented on above posting
Steve OConnor commented on above posting
The fears of the residents concerning garbage being put in the old pit were well founded because pipes were added to catch the methane before a golf course was built on top of the landfill. So either the rules were changed, the commissioner of streets and electricity was bribed, or the commissioner was incompetent and the contractor got away with illegal dumping.

Satellite
The original part was the bottom part of the satellite image. The tunnel accessed clay in the upper-right part. The CN/GTW and CSX/B&OCT tracks makes it easy to locate the facility on a 1938 photo.

1938 Aerial photo from ILHAP

Update:

David Daruszka commented on a posting:
Purington was located just south of 119th Street between the two Rock Island lines in Blue Island. The clay pit was eventually filled in.
From a history of Blue Island:
BrickyardsAfter it was discovered in the early 1850s that rich deposits of clay surrounded the ridge, Blue Island became the center of a significant brick-making industry that lasted for over a century. In the early years, these efforts were small, with the bricks being made by hand and the turnout created mostly for local use, but by 1886 the Illinois Pressed Brick Company (organized in 1884) was employing about 80 men and using “steam power and the most approved machinery”, which allowed them to produce 50,000 bricks per day.] By 1900, the Clifton Brickyard alone—which had opened in 1883 under the name of Purington at the far northeast corner of the village was producing 150,000,000 bricks a year. In 1886, the Chicago architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan designed a large complex for the Wahl Brothers brickyard (the main building of which was 250 by 350 feet on the west side of the Grand Trunk tracks between 119th and 123rd streets. These buildings had been demolished by 1935, and all of Blue Island’s brickyards were re-purposed by the latter part of the mid-20th century. The larger ones for a while become landfills, and the Wahl Brothers location is now the site of the Meadows Golf Club
The Nov. 24, 2016, issue of the Chicago Tribune had big article on brick collecting in its A&E Section. Part of an introductory paragraph is of particular interest:
Chicago --- rich in clay deposits used for brick-making, having burned down in 1871 --- was a ripe canvas, rebuilt as a brick metropolis. By the 1890s the area boasted more than 60 brickyards, clustered near Blue Island; manufacturers pumped out 600 million bricks a year. Before the industry peaked in the 1920s, before steel and concrete competed for attention, Chicago had become an international hub for brick production.
In addition to the brick collecting link near the top of this posting, the International Brick Collectors Association has an official and a member's sites.

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