It was one of the city’s earliest brick plants and at one time one of the most important.
While brick making never was a large industry here, for many years the city was not without such a plant. It was not until the modern trend of industry to volume production began to get more and more of business that Hannibal was left entirely without its brick factories.
Editor’s note: This is a reprint of a story that was originally printed in the Hannibal Courier-Post in an edition printed in honor of the newspaper’s 100th anniversary in 1938.
Many buildings now standing in Hannibal (in 1938) were constructed of bricks manufactured in local plants but the brick-making industry itself has vanished.
Even in in the days when the lumber industry was the city’s largest business there was considerable demand for bricks for erection of business houses, and three brick plants flourished in 1871.
The last brick yard ceased operation 20 years ago when local manufacturers found they were unable to compete with large out of town plants which had the advantage of large-scale production.
Although the brick manufacturing industry never was a large employer of labor, it contributed much to the city’s progress by providing a steady supply of building material.
The last brick plant operating in Hannibal was one started by Robert B. Elgin and Frank D. Richmond about 1900 at the west end of Hope street. They maintained the business until 1916 when it was discontinued because of high operating costs.
The yards were taken over by the partnership of Kespohl and Helbing and operated about two years.
Elgin and Richmond were contractors and used the entire output of their plant in buildings they erected.
Operating in 1871
Although early Marion county histories do not record who started the first brick-making plant in Hannibal, the business was well established by 1871.
In that year brick yards were being operated by J. C. Anderson, at the western edge of the city the firm of Bulkley and Peyton on Fulton avenue, and E. Glavin on Palmyra avenue, now known as Mark Twain avenue.
The firm of Hinton and Storrs operated a brick kiln at the foot of Broadway in 1885. according to a city directory of that year, and Berning and Holtman had taken over the brick plant formerly operated by Glavin on Palmyra avenue near Grand avenue.
The firm of Glavin and Ford was engaged in the manufacture of bricks on the former Bulkley and Peyton site, on Fulton avenue near what is now Terrace avenue.
There was also a brick yard on the south river road near the road leading to the Mark Twain cave. This was owned by the late R. H. Stillwell and was operated by lessees. Elgin and Richmond operated this yard for a year after they closed their Hope street plant.
Clay Supply Here
All clay used in the local manufacturing was obtained from hills or clay pits surrounding the city, the material usually being found near the brick yards.
The Fulton avenue plant employed about 10 men on an average payroll and the Hope street yard usually had three men working.
The most common method of firing the brick was in open kilns, the molded clay being stacked in a manner to leave a space between the bricks. The outside of the kiln, called a casing, was made of finished bricks and sealed with clay although frequently the casing was formed from unfired bricks.
The early plants mixed clay and straw by hand but later a mixer which resembled a huge wooden churn was used. The mixing paddle was turned by a single horse walking around the mixing device.
The mixture was poured into molds of the proper size and allowed to set before being placed in the firing kiln.
Wood Used in Kilns
Wood was used for fuel, although the Stillwell plant sometimes used coal, and when Kespohl and Helbing took over the old Elgin and Richmond yards, they added ovens which burned coal.
The quality of the finished bricks depended upon their location in the kiln. Bricks nearest the fire were baked hardest and acquired the desired dark red color. These were used for face brick in the exterior walls of buildings.
Bricks which did not come in direct contact with the fire were lighter in color and would absorb water during heavy rains if used for facing. Consequently these soiter bricks were used for inner layers of walls.
Gone With Trends
Natural facilities here evidently did not offer the possibilities that were presented by some other locations in Missouri. At least the larger brick plants have been placed elsewhere.
As in many other industries in the present-day trends, the small brick yards gradually closed down, not able to compete with larger modern plants. This happened not only in Hannibal but in many other places.
Brick still is used in large quantities for construction purposes in Hannibal. Most business buildings, schools, churches and many residences are of brick.
Of the older buildings most of the bricks used were manufactured here, but now they are imported, although many are Missouri products.
In older days it frequently was a practice for a contractor to make his own bricks. This caused some of the local yards to be established. Now contractors find it easier and cheaper to buy from the large producers.
It is but another instance of the vastly changed economic picture and its effect upon the small individual plants of the past century that sprang up in each community to satisfy that community’s needs.
Faster and more adequate transportation and manufacturing methods have brought about an entirely different industrial structure.
Source: Hannibal Courier-Post, Saturday, March 17, 2001