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Brick Making in Dover

Gages brickyard.jpg
Brickyards of Elbridge Gage on the Bellamy River near what today is the location of the Spaulding Turnpike toll booths.
From The Port of Dover by Robert A. Whitehouse. Photograph owned by the Old Berwick Historical Society.

Brick Makers at Dover Point and Dover Neck
Read to the Northam Colonists Historical Society By John Scales, April 11, 1905.

The first bricks were made at Dover Point, more than 250 years ago. There are marks of old brick yards there that certainly must have been idle for more than a hundred years. These are located on both Fore and Back Rivers, and of course, were small yards with the very crudest methods of manufacture. It is impossible to ascertain who made the first brick in Dover. In this article Dover Neck will be included with the Point, to show what a big industry this brick business has been and is now. It may be well here to mention the brick makers, beginning with those who were in business in the first decade of the Twentieth Century.

At the Point, on the Pascataqua River, were the yards of J. Frank Seavey, John E. Pinkham and several old yards above, which were worked out many years ago. On Fore River are the old yards of Aaron Pinkham, Thomas Henderson, James Coleman, Joseph Fernald and Jacob Ford. Then came the yards of George W. Ford, Elbridge Gage, James Parle and James Morang, The next yards that were above these are three, which were started by Hanson Roberts, Joseph Roberts and Jerry Roberts. These yards were worked about two years but the owners found the clay too hard and went across the river. This clay can now be worked by the improved methods. Then come the old yards of Alonzo and Aaron Roberts close by and Isaac Lucas who bought his yard of Andrew Roberts; David Gage and Moses Gage at Gage’s Point and the Horne brick yard operated by Charles P. Chesley. This was the old Sargeant brick yard once owned by Ex-Mayor James Bennett, then by Henry Robert, who sold it to Mr. Horne.

On the back river at the lower end the first yard is Henry Card, then Benjamin Ford at Redden’s Point, Daniel Pinkham, William Clements and John Clements, Charles Morang, Elbridge Gage, Aaron Roberts, then Hanson and Joseph Roberts, now owned by Charles Samuel Roberts, This yard was worked for 30 years and has been idle for 50 years. Then Oliver L. Robert and Jerry Roberts, Howard M. Roberts and his son Fred W. Roberts, and William Courser. Among the first brickmakers at Dover Point were Thomas Henderson, Capt. Thomas Card and Jacob Ford. 

Those who followed them in the next generation mentioned in the order of their yards, were Enoch Pinkham, Henry Card, Benjamin Ford, William Clements, John Clements, Daniel Pinkham, Hanson Roberts, Joseph Roberts, Jerry Roberts, Alonzo Roberts, Aaron Roberts, Samuel Horne, Giles Horne, Nicholas Varney, Robert Varney and Andrew Varney. 

The latest owners who are, for the most part, operating their yards are Richard Pinkham, Ira Pinkham, John Pinkham, William Card, Thomas Parle, George Ford, Aaron Pinkham , Alonzo Pinkham, James Coleman, Job Coleman, Joseph Fernald, John H. Henderson, Wesley Clements, Charles Morang, Elbridge Gage, Joseph Libbey, Howard Roberts, Fred Robert and William Courser. Mr. Courser is not at present operating his yard. This was formerly owned by Frank Varney. 

Thomas Henderson, father of John W. Henderson, who had owned the first yard at the point, sold it to Capt. Thomas Card and moved about a mile further up the river to the yard now owned by John Henderson. Thomas Henderson, grandfather of John Henderson owned the land where the Dover Point house now stands and with his father, Howard Henderson, ran a ship yard there till the war of 1812 when several of his ships were captured. Benjamin Ford was one of the very earliest brick makers of the last century, his yard being located at Back River across from Goat Island. Daniel Pinkham and John Clements were in the business at that period, the latter’s yard being quite close to wall spring and is easily distinguished today. The name of Roberts must not be omitted form the old time manufacturers, their yards being on Fore River near Huckleberry hill. Hanson Roberts, father of Howard M. Roberts, furnished about fifteen hundred thousand bricks for No. 4 mill. Bricks were furnished by other makers, but the boss mason thinking Mr. Roberts bricks hardest, laid them next to the water. 

The yard now operated by Isaac Lucas was opened 65 years ago by Samuel Horne. Mr. Lucas bought it 40 years ago. He opened a new yard 6 years ago, in order to make more bricks. He has seven soak pits and three Gage machines and makes 1,500,000 a year. In the kiln burned last year 365 cords of wood were consumed in 9 days. 

The Horne yard managed by Mr. Chesley is the only yard on the river which makes sand struck brick. They are sand struck, when sand instead of water is used to prevent the bricks from sticking to the moulds. 

The use of machinery in making soft mud bricks is comparatively recent, less than 50 years ago. Dover may boast of the fact that one of her sons did more to revolutionize the soft mud branch of the of the industry than any other man in this country and that was David Gage who invented a practical machine to make water struck brick and thousands of them are now in use. The machine was patented in 1858 and has been twice renewed, but has now run out. After he secured the patent he gave up the work in the brick yard to his brother Moses and gave his attention toe the manufacture of machines, till his death, which occurred in 1900. His son succeeds him in the business, making to order only. A firm in Exeter is to make the machines which are now used all over the country. Moses Gage and David Gage started a yard at Thompson’s Point but as they worked back from the river the earth was so deep above the clay that it did not pay to work it and they opened a new yard at Gage’s Point, opposite Three Rivers farm. There they have blue clay which does not need soaking. This is the only yard on the river which has blue clay. The grandfather of Mr. Howard M. Roberts made the bricks for the chimney of his house down by the river and when dry, hauled them with oxen to the house lot and burned them there. The marks of this kiln can plainly be seen today, where it burned into the ground. The clay was pulverized by driving oxen over it. Hanson Roberts remembered seeing this done. 

Enoch Pinkham, grandfather or Alderman L. Pinkham, was one of the best known of brick men as early as 1830, his yard being located just at the end of the Dover Point bridge, He owned a small vessel to convey his bricks to Boston. His sons, John E. Pinkham, Ira Pinkham and Richard A. Pinkham, built yards of their won near by and from property owned by him. Only two of the four yards are now running and the clay is nearly exhausted at the old sites. Ira Pinkham retired 15 years ago. John E. Pinkham is still in the business. R.A. Pinkham died 10 years ago and his old yard is run by J. Frank  Seavey and Peter Loughlin. 

Sixth Street used to be called Brick Street, as bricks were made years ago at the upper end where there is still excellent clay. There was also a brick yard at the corner of Park and New York Street where the block now stands. The cotton mills and also Sawyer mills were built from Dover river bricks. The bricks in the Joseph Ham house, at Garrison Hill, and the Guppy house on the turnpike, came from England and bear the date of manufacture.  

The bricks made on Dover River were formerly carried to Boston by schooners, many of the brickmakers owning their own vessels but now most of the freighting is done by the Pascataqua Navigation Company. A tug brings a barge to the wharf and calls for it, when filled. One tug will tow three barges to Boston.  

The owners of farms along the river have paid comparatively little attention to the improvement of their land, since the money lay nearer the river in the clay bank. Judging from the general air of prosperity among them the yield has been satisfactory.

Brick Makers and Brick Making at Dover Point and Dover Neck
From History of Dover, New Hampshire. vol. 1. : Containing historical, genealogical and industrial data of its early settlers, their struggles and triumphs by John Scales, c. 1923.

The initial process in preparing the clay, say 250 or 300 years ago, was to dig out the season’s clay in the early spring, enough to last for a summer. From this big pile of coarse material each day was wheeled onto the clay dry ground enough to cover to a depth of two or three inches. This was left to dry in the sun and wind. It was then wheeled into soak pit and water bailed on. Clay in a dry state will slack like lime and become fine and in good condition for moulding. From this pit it was shoveled onto a table and put into molds by hand, struck off with a straight edge and left on the yard to dry. 

Another way and much practiced was to dig out the clay in the fall and leave it to mellow by frost during the winter, turning it frequently to expose it to the action of the atmosphere. In the spring it was thrown into pits where it was soaked and then tempered by the feet of men or oxen, or by means of a pug mill. An edict was issued by a Governor of Massachusetts Bay colony that all brickmakers who sold in Boston must so prepare their clay. By the present method the clay bank is made a gradual slant. Every day, usually in the afternoon, a clay cutter, drawn by horses, back and forth over the sides of the bank, planes off the clay in layers about two inches thick. This is thrown into a pit and soaked in water over night. In the morning it is mixed with one-fourth sand to prevent the clay from shrinking too much in burning, and shoveled into the brick machine. The top of this machine is funnel shaped with an upright revolving shaft, and is fitted with knives which pulverize the clay. Horse power is used. Then it goes down into the press box. To run under the press box is a carriage. On this carriage is placed a brick mold, holding six bricks. By a lever, worked by the foot, this is forced under the press box, filled and drawn out. These molds are placed on a brick-truck and wheeled away to the drying ground where they are skillfully tipped out of the molds onto the ground, where they are left till they are dry enough to handle, when they are turned on edge. After further drying they are wheeled to the kiln ground and arranged for burning. The kiln is built of brick, so spaced as to allow the heat to reach all parts evenly, the spaces acting as flues throughout the whole mass. The kiln is built in arches of 20 or 25,000 brick into which wood is put for burning. When the setting is finished, poor quality bricks are built up outside and plastered with mud by hand, which renders the kiln air tight. The first few days it must burn slowly until the water, smoke and dampness are gone. Then the heat is increased and must not be allowed to go down. The kiln is dressed once in two hours, that is, the arches are filled with cord wood, spruce, pine or hard wood. The process of burning goes on about a week. This requires all the skill of the maker, and the owner of the yard is rarely absent during this process, as on this depends his profits. Usually one kiln is burned in a season, in August or September.

The Fiske Brick Making System 
From History of Dover, New Hampshire. vol. 1. : Containing historical, genealogical and industrial data of its early settlers, their struggles and triumphs by John Scales, c. 1923.

In 1902 the Fiske Brick Making System was established in a large plant that was located on the ground north of Sandy Point. This was a large and elaborate construction of machinery so arranged that the clay and sand, the raw materials, entered on a railway at the south end of the building and was dumped into the mixer, and from that the material proceeded systematically through the various processes of molding, stacking placing in the kiln, and removing from that to the storage room without being touched by the human hands, thus saving a large amount of manual labor. 

At the clay beds, on Back River, the clay was cut out by machinery and loaded on box cars, and brought to the factory, where cars were drawn up an inclined trestle and the material, five cubic yards in each car, was dumped into a hopper at the disintegrator or pug mill and was forced into a brick machine. This machine was standard and no part of the Fiske system. Mr. Fiske’s patents covered only the handling. It was called an augur machine, which forced the column of clay, prepared by machinery, through a die. After leaving the die the column of clay passed through and automatic reel where the wires sliced up the bar of clay into bricks which were taken away on a horizontal or off-heaving belt. At this point the special handling machinery began its work. The bricks were handled in masses instead of one by one. As they issued from the molding machine they were placed by hand on setting-up stands, one of which was permanently located on each side of the off-heaving belt. They were placed on these stands in such relative positions that they could be dried, burned, and delivered on the sorting table without re-arrangement, the entire stack of 1500 bricks being lifted as a unit, transported and deposited by suitable machinery, first in the dryer, then in the kiln, and finally in the stock yard. When the first stack was completed the stackers commenced putting bricks on the opposite one so there was no waiting and the brick machine was permitted to run without interruption. 

The first stack was removed by the handling machinery which consisted of an overhead electric traveling crane and a special carrier called a brick lift. The crane traveled on tracks supported on an elevated runway near the eaves of the main building and spanned the building completely and traveled its entire length. The crane was driven along the overhead tracks by an electric motor called the “travel motor” and the hoisting and lowering of the load was effected by the hoist motor located on top. Each motor was controlled independently by a lever in the cage of the operator who had at all times an uninterrupted view of the whole floor. 

This operator, with one helper, could handle as many bricks as 15 or 20 men with wheel barrows.  

The brick lift consisted of two lifted beams braced together to form a girder. To this girder was attached 104 lifting fingers. To transport a load of bricks the lift was brought by the crane in front of the setting-up stand, lowered, and the fingers run into the proper spaces and the entire load was raised by the hoisting motor and carried by the crane to the dryer which was accurately spaced to receive them. The dryer was of brick and steel and fireproof. There were four chambers, each with a cover which could be lifted by the fingers of the brick lift. Each chamber held 18,000 brick. The covers dropped into channels of sand which sealed the chambers. Hot air was forced through the bricks by a powerful fan driven by an electric motor, the air being heated by a Brown Heat Generator. The hot air was forced into a circular tunnel running lengthwise the building and under the floor.

The bricks were carried from the drier to the kiln by the crane and brick lift and there deposited, each chamber having a removable crown so as to leave the entire top open. The crowns were made of fire clay blocks and iron. When a chamber was filled the crown was lowered and sealed around the edge with soft bricks and sand. The fires were fed with coal through holes in the crown. The draft for burning was produced by an exhaust fan driven by an electric motor. 

The coal was brought by the crane and brick lift from the storage bin in long iron boxes and deposited near the feed holes. The ashes were taken out in the same way after the bricks were removed. The bricks after burning, were removed by the brick lift to an assorting stand at the end of the kiln. 

This plant did good work for several years and the brick from it were used, to a large extent, in construction of the High School House and the Public Library building in Hale Park. Unfortunately this plant was destroyed by fire 28 Dec., 1906, and has not been rebuilt. Debris of the foundations is all that remains to make the spot where it stood.

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