Past industry in Saylorsburg: Glazed bricks

White-glazed bricks from the Blue Ridge Enameled Brick Company, owned by the Monroe County Historical Association.
By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

During the turn of the 19th century, brick manufacturing in Saylorsburg was an important and well-respected industry, with its products marketed to communities both locally and throughout the United States. High-quality deposits of clay had been previously discovered in this portion of Monroe County, and savvy businessmen were able to extract this clay through mining to produce desirable, quality bricks needed for construction.

The commercial brick industry in Saylorsburg was born in April 1894, when the Penn Buff Brick and Tile Company began making bricks from the superior clay. While the company had been mildly successful for several years, on April 1, 1901, the owners of the company changed its name to the Blue Ridge Enameled Brick Company. The company updated its focus to concentrate efforts solely on the manufacture of an excellent-quality, enamel brick with a hard, white, shiny glaze.

A gentleman from Leeds, England, was hired to create the special glaze that would make the bricks produced at the Saylorsburg plant famous. Unfortunately, his name has been lost to history.

The Blue Ridge Enameled Brick Company’s manufacturing plant sat on 240 acres in both Hamilton and Ross townships along the Chestnut Ridge. The sales office was located in Newark, N.J., in the Prudential Building.

The clay material used for the bricks was a high-grade refractory fire clay consisting of “silica, alumina, peroxide of iron, magnesia, lime, water and other alkalis.” At the mining site, two shafts, each measuring six feet in width and 150 feet deep, were dug into the ground. One shaft was used to transport the miners and the equipment they needed to extract the clay; the other shaft supplied fresh air to the miners.

The downward shafts led to horizontal tunnels which opened up into a large timber-supported room from which the clay was removed. Fifty to 75 tons of clay were collected by the miners daily. Once at the surface, the clay was placed into gravity-pulled railcars which traveled down the ridge to the clay storage shed. The shed had a 6,500 ton capacity.

From the storage shed, the clay was transferred to the brick building shed where it was pressed into the rectangular brick form. The shaped bricks moved on to a special 140-foot by 50-foot building with a flue-lined floor for baking. The building used for baking the bricks could accommodate 20,000 bricks a day. The next step in the process was to have the bricks tempered before they were moved to the drying room, where they rested for 24 hours.

Once dry, the bricks were transported to the chemical storage shed where they received their exterior coat. This two-story building measured 40 feet by 40 feet and consisted of three rooms, each room having its own tanks filled with dipping solutions.

The first room was for “white glaze,” the second was for “stock colors,” and the third was for “special colors.” After the bricks received the glaze, they were lined up on tables (measuring 1,800 linear feet!) and placed into a kiln to be fired. Two employees were in charge of lining up the bricks along the table — for their back-breaking work, the men were paid 8½ cents per hour.

Smoke stacks at the Blue Ridge Enameled Brick Company.

The kilns had a capacity of 25,000 bricks. This final process in the manufacturing of the bricks took three to four weeks. The finished bricks were placed in a storage shed to await transport to the local rail line, ready to be sold and distributed across the nation.

The Blue Ridge Enameled Brick Company had a board of directors whose members financially backed the business. In 1903, the plant at Saylorsburg was managed by Richard C. Reynolds and James T. Raynor, both of whom had had experience in the brick industry.

In addition to the mining and processing operations, additional buildings were located at the site to support the daily operations of the enterprise. From a carpenter’s shop and a drafting room to a coal storage facility and an engine room, other employees specializing in vocations outside of mining were needed to ensure the company was a success.

The company began to suffer financial losses, and in May 1905 shares began to be sold, production decreased, and employees were laid off. A new type of clay was found in large deposits in the mines, and residents hoped this would lead to a rebirth of the company. An October 14, 1909 edition of the
Monroe Democrat reported that new investors had taken an interest in the company with the purpose to “make a fine building brick of superb finish in buff, grey, and other colors as desired, floor tiling, ancostic {sic} tiles and any fine article of merchandise manufactured by clay.”

Unfortunately, the hopes of local residents did not come to fruition, and on May 12, 1913, the entire company was sold at auction by Sheriff Peter Bonser. The highest bidder was John Cushing who bought the property for $31,000.

There was a great deal of speculation that the company would start up again, but it was not meant to be. Many rumors began to circulate that family members had run off with the money, or that the secret recipe used in the enameling process was lost when the unknown British man from Leeds died.

On April 6, 1925, the Blue Ridge Enameled Brick Company officially dissolved, and the property remained vacant. In March of 1928, after three years of sitting vacant, three of the smokestacks from the old brick works were dynamited for safety reasons.

The three smokestacks stood 125, 120, and 90 feet tall and were leveled by Easton explosives expert, Charles Weaver. During this time, many residents gathered to watch the spectacle. The Lake House (which was part of the company’s holdings) was “packed with lunch patrons,” and the local fire company saw the opportunity to raise funds for the firehouse by setting up a hot dog stand. The last smokestack remained standing until February 18, 1960, when 33 sticks of dynamite were used to level it.

In its heyday, the Blue Ridge Enameled Brick Company was very successful and employed hundreds of local residents. The white glazed bricks were featured at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1901 and the Charleston Exposition in South Carolina in 1902. Bricks from the Saylorsburg factory were shipped from coast to coast across the United States and even into Canada. The white bricks were used extensively in building construction and are included in prominent structures such as buildings at the Brooklyn Ship Yard, the private residence of Andrew Carnegie, the Niagara Falls power house, the King Edward Hotel in Canada, and many more.