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A Brickyard in New England

Updated: May 11, 2023

Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. 32, No. 2 (June 1979)

By Daniel B. Reibel

This little scene, frozen in time be­tween 1895 and 1900, shows a part of the operation of a brickyard in New England. What you can see is the mix­ing operation. It could not be more sim­ple. A post is driven into the ground in the middle of an impression. A shaft pivots on this. The shaft is the axle for a large wagon wheel and is pulled by a team. The clay, to be mixed and tempered to the proper consistency, is dumped into the pit and the team is driven round and round thoroughly mixing the clay. A boy gets the job of driving the team. There is a plat­form on the end of the shaft away from the horses. Perhaps that is where he was meant to drive the team. Someone has rigged a set of sulkey wheels be­hind the team and a bambershoot so the driver can ride in comfort. Three small children have preempted the seat and perhaps that is the cause of this photograph being taken? Perhaps someone is visiting the site with his children and had them photographed when they were taking a ride?

Some of the details are fascinating. The wagon wheel is a large one and has just been stuck on the shaft. I imagine that a great deal of time went into keeping it in place. There is a windmill behind the horses to pump the water. The water is carried to the pit in a barrel on a truck which you can see in the foreground. The barrel is leaking. A bucket stands nearby to do the actual wetting. I imagine that the team was used to haul the barrel on the truck as it must have been too heavy to move any other way. There is a shovel laying on the ground to handle the clay. One thing missing from the photograph is the pile of clay waiting to be mixed. Behind the mixing pit are two stacks of bricks being air dried. Behind them is a stack of bats used to carry the wet bricks. A load of firewood used to fire the kilns ( or to make charcoal) stands behind the drying bricks. It is too bad that we can not see the kiln but it was probably a beehive type that were so common until recently.

We are grateful to Bill Streeter for sending us this photograph. He does not know any of the details of other than it is from New England.


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