The Hopewell Valley is blessed with some wonderful and impressive (and solid) brick buildings. But where did all those bricks came from, especially for construction around 1900, with delivery by horse and wagon?
It turns out that the Hopewell Valley area did have some local brickyards, including near Lambertville and in Hopewell Borough. We can piece together part of the stories of these from newspaper articles, although we do not seem to have any remaining artifacts from them.
New Jersey actually has rich deposits of clay that run diagonally northeast across the middle of the state, starting across from Wilmington, along the Delaware River, through Trenton, and then continuing to Perth Amboy.
As reported in The Clays and Clay Industry of New Jersey, by Ries and Kümmel (1904), a number of brickyards were started around Trenton as early as 1856, and served as the nucleus of a thriving brick industry into the 1900s.
There also were brickyards in Flemington and Rocky Hill, and at least one in the Lambertville / Titusville area – The Clays book reports that T. O. Daniel had a small yard by 1816, “on the Sourland mountain, southeast of Lambertville,” and Hunter & Porter’s Hopewell: A Historic Geography identifies a brickyard on Baldpate Mountain, shown as “Br Yd” on the 1860 Lake & Beers map, and near the suggestively named current Brickyard Road.
And there was a brickyard in Hopewell Borough from 1890 to 1899, located on both sides of what is now Somerset Street, east of the train station. We only know about this through brief mentions in the newspapers – It’s a messy story of three entrepreneurs, two of whom died unexpectedly while in the business.
The story begins with Charles Fay and Joseph C. Prince, who bought the land which was known to contain clay, and started a brickyard to manufacture fire brick and tile.
Fay was a Trenton resident, and was previously a stockholder in the Delaware Pottery. Unfortunately, he died in 1892 of rheumatism contracted while working at the brickyard.
The resulting public sale of the brickyard in 1892 describes the scope of the property: “9 2/100 acres, including the following chattels: 65,000 Brick, 12 tons of Coal, Brick Press, Wheelbarrows, Tools, Moulds and all the appurtenances of the Brickyard.”
The property has a water supply from the tributary of Beden Brook that crosses near the Railroad Place side.
And the tract needed to be large – besides the clay pits, it must have included other buildings and machinery, for excavating and preparing clay, and for pressing, firing, drying, and storing the bricks. (Just the north side of Somerset, east of the stream and to the tracks, is around 5 acres.)
Then in 1893 the brickyard was started up again by Joseph Prince and Patrick J. Cahill, who was for many years foreman of the Fell & Baker brickyard in Trenton. (Prince was an usher at Cahill’s wedding in 1889.)
There are brief mentions of the brickyard in 1894 and 1897 associated only with Cahill’s name. However, in December 1897 Cahill disappeared mysteriously during a trip to Trenton, and his body later was found in the river.
In 1900, the brickyard property was bought by the People’s Building, Loan and Savings Association for $500, at a sheriff’s sale as a result of the bank’s complaint against Mary Cahill.
The property then was acquired in 1901 by the Hopewell Factory and Inducement Company, which began the development of Somerset Street by offering free property on the north side for industrial use (by the tracks), and building lots on the south side for residential housing.
Today, nothing of the brickyard remains on Somerset Street, especially after the massive clean-up and disposal of land and buildings as a result of the Rockwell contamination.
But might some bricks remain? For example, the Chocolate Factory nearby on Railroad Place was built in 1892, using bricks with a wide variation of coloring. (The current Hopewell Public Library – originally the National Bank – was a bit too early, opening in 1890.)
Does anyone have more information, or photos or artifacts or bricks, from local brickyards?
- Clays and Clay Industry of New Jersey by Heinrich Ries and Henry B. Kümmel (2004) can be downloaded from the Internet Archive