Out for a stroll one recent morning, I happened upon a downtown alleyway just north of 4th Avenue S that runs between two small, nearly-brand-new apartment buildings. The alleyway, like many old alleys in Downtown St Pete, was paved with bricks. And not just any bricks: noticeably, several different kinds of bricks, from several different Southern foundries. I found it interesting seeing some names I’d never heard of, being very used to the AUGUSTA BLOCK bricks so prominent in St Pete alleys.
Curious to find out more about the history of the quarries and their product, I snapped a few photos and decided to do a little ‘brick research.’
WESTPORT PAVING BRICK CO., Baltimore, Md.
From WikiAnswers: Westport Paving & Brick was a Baltimore based manufacturer of bricks. The company was located in the Westport area of south Baltimore, an older industrial east coast city.
The company was founded around 1905 by William L. Wise Sr. of Baltimore.
At one time, Westport Paving & Brick was one of the larger manufacturers of bricks in the DelMarVa area which were used in both the commercial as well as residential sectors.
So well regarded were these bricks, known as ‘Baltimore Bricks,’ that many were exported to other municipalities for construction of government buildings, streets, alleyways and sidewalks. Often the bricks were used during shipping as the ballast itself. By the mid 1920s, with more automobiles prevalent amongst the middle class, a more refined surface was needed to give drivers a smoother ride and the time of the brick street was at an end.
One place of note where the ‘Baltimore Bricks’ can be found in abundance is at the Ernest Hemingway house located in Key West, Florida. The bricks had initially been shipped via clipper ships to Key West in the 1910s. By the mid 1930s, the city council decided to upgrade their streets with the new easier to drive on concrete formulas so common at that time. Mr. Hemingway purchased the bricks from the city of Key West at the cost of one penny per brick. Hemingway purchased approximately 20,000 of these bricks which he used for the wall surrounding his property and also his walkways.
Westport Paving & Brick was still in business during World War II and appears to have disbanded around 1948.
COPELAND-INGLIS SHALE BRICK CO., Birmingham, AL
From the Society for Georgia Archeology: Copeland-Inglis shipped bricks across the Southeast. They were used in Chattanooga’s freight depot in the late 1800s. They also were used in Tampa, in the driveway of a 1891 building that was once a hotel, and is now a museum on the University of Tampa campus.
SOUTHERN CLAY MFG CO., Robbins, TN
From TN GenWeb Project: In 1902 The Tennessee Paving Brick Company sold its Robbins operation to the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company of Jersey City, New Jersey. This was the same year that the community of Robbins, Tennessee was granted a town charter. Southern Clay Manufacturing imported and applied mass production machinery and techniques to the clay products industry at Robbins. The Robbins plant then began to produce and sell SCM paving bricks, fire and chemical bricks, clay sewer pipe, various construction bricks, and square-2,6, and 9-sectioned telephone line conduit. The Robbins brickyard prospered until the late 1920s when macadam paved road construction replaced brick paving. This construction decline spelled hardship for the Robbins plant because much of its production was based on contracts with Florida developers. Shortly after this the Great Depression occurred and the Robbins plant suffered a slow decline in contracts as construction projects dwindled. Slowdowns and lay-offs occurred during this time including some years which saw the Robbins brick plant open for only a few months at a time. Attempts were made to save the Robbins plant by encouraging nearby communities to pave many of their local roads with SCM bricks, all to no avail. The last bricks produced at Robbins were made in 1937 and went to Alcoa, Tennessee.
GEORGIA VITRIFIED CLAY CO., Harlem, GA
From The Augusta Chronicle: Georgia Vitrified Brick and Clay Co. opened in 1902. The main part of the institution was at Campania, about two miles outside Harlem. One of the company’s founding officers, Frank R. Clark, was instrumental in helping locate the first bank in Columbia County, at Harlem, in November 1905.
The company’s kilns were used to produce sewer pipes, chimney liners, flues, tiles and other clay products. During its heyday, the enterprise rented small apartment homes in Belair to house many of its employees at its mines.
The company’s legacies include bricks embossed with the “AUGUSTA BLOCK” trademark, manufactured and produced through the 1940s.
These bricks still can be found at some locations across the South. They are on some walkways near Riverwalk Augusta and Daniel Village, and some are embedded in highways throughout the vicinity. Old courthouse and cemetery yards in Georgia still yield the famed bricks that were processed at the ovens in Campania. Moreover, many also can be found in areas of Florida such as Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The company was sold in 1995 to an Indiana firm. Its facility at Campania has been used primarily as a distribution point.
MONARCH BRICK CO., Rockmart, GA
From The Georgia Department of Archives and History: The Monarch Brick Company was organized with the intention of producing slate and using the waste in brick manufacturing. By the time the plant was built in 1900, the demand for slate was declining rapidly, and the company never produced any slate. Monarch soon reorganized, becoming the Rockmart Shale Brick and Slate Company. For about 20 years the plant manufactured a vitrified paving brick, using, in part, weathered slate or shale. The company closed its doors in the 1920s.
And this informational tidbit, from the St Petersburg City Council:
Initially developed with a system of dirt roads, St. Petersburg started paving city streets with brick in 1903 when a bond issue was passed to pave Central Avenue from 2nd Street to 5th Street. Between 1909 and 1913, $202,000 was allocated to improve streets and expand brick paving into the surrounding residential neighborhoods and along Central Avenue to the western end of the city. By the end of the Florida land boom in 1926, St. Petersburg had over 300 miles of brick paved streets. With the development of new paving techniques during the late 1920s, brick paving declined in the city. In 1941, there were 339 miles of brick streets in the City. By 1960, this number dwindled to approximately 113 miles since many streets were overlaid with asphalt. By 1992, approximately 93 miles of brick streets remained.
Final note: fabulous brick streets can be found in Roser Park, Park Street, Kenwood, and virtually all over the Old Northeast neighborhood as well as hundreds of alleyways – like the little one I stumbled upon – throughout Downtown.
What is considered the “brickiest” street in St Petersburg? That honor goes to Park Street North, which traverses nearly a mile past historic Abercrombie Park, through the Jungle neighborhood, past Admiral Farragut Academy, and terminates near Central Avenue. In 1990, Pinellas County suggested paving over the bricks, which had been placed on the roadway during St. Petersburg’s 1920s boom-era. Back in 1990, Park Street N was reclassified as a county, not city, roadway.
As of 2022, however, you can still enjoy the bumpiest ride in town as you glide not-so-gently over Park Street’s historic bricks – most made from the foundries mentioned above.