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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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GRHC - October 27th, 2010

Solomon Withey and his son Orison experiment with the local materials in creating the city's first brick.    



One of the earliest brick makers in the city was Solomon Withey, who in 1863 would be appointed United State judge for the Western District of Michigan. But in 1836 his mind was on bricks. He had discovered a bed of clay in the small hill at Ionia and Coldbrook Streets that he thought suitable, and he built a small kiln there.

His bricks were first used for the chimney in the house of George Coggeshell. William Davidson, the builder, began the chimney in the basement. He had nearly reached the roof when a heavy rainstorm came during the night and gave the unfinished chimney a good soaking. The following morning the chimney was found in a heap at the bottom of the cellar. The clay contained a considerable quantity of limestone. When fired in the kiln the heat created calcium hydroxide; when combined with rainwater the bricks burst.

Withey’s son, Orison, began making bricks on South Division near Oakes where a better source of clay existed. It was here that the bricks were made for the city’s first brick block, Irving Hall, located at the foot of Monroe on the south side.

Simeon Baldwin established a successful and profitable brickyard east of the junction of Fulton and Lake Drive. Others followed and by the end of the nineteenth century companies like Grand Rapids Consolidated Brick were exploiting the clay deposits bordered by Michigan, Fuller, Eastern and Fountain streets to provide bricks for the rapidly expanding city.

Full Details

KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, radio, brickmakers, brick, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, Podcast
Pubdate StringOctober 27th, 2010

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