Although no longer in business, the old brickyards, located just north of milepost 51 on Interstate 74, remain. Overgrown with weeds and brush, the crumbling buildings and kilns can be still be seen. Birds and wildlife have taken over the land where over 800 workers once used the blue shale and yellow soil to produced over 150,000 bricks a day.
The first brick was manufactured in the area in 1849. Henry Grosscup, a German stone mason, purchased 90 acres of land from Knox College trustees. The college was paid for the land in brick, which was used to construct Whiting Hall and Old Main.
|D. V. Purington and W. S. Purington purchased the land around 1890. Their kilns produced the 4x4x8 inch paving brick until 1949. Yard No. 1 contained 14 kilns and later, Yard No. 2 was added with 22 kilns. Eventually the company had four yards covering the area.|
|Between 1890 and 1930, over 60 miles of brick street were laid in Galesburg. The United States Government selected Purington Pavers to pave the streets of the city of Panama when building the Panama Canal. Cities from Chicago, IL to Deadwood, SD ordered the bricks for their streets.|
|The largest order ever filled was at the start of World War II when Dupont Co. ordered 22,000,000 building bricks for a munition plant being constructed in southern Indiana. The company worked at full production for 146 days to fill the order. Seven or eight freight cars were filled each day with brick that was shipped at night. The next morning, the bricks arrived at the building site, still warm from the kiln.|
The process of making the bricks was labor intensive. The shale was scooped out of nearby pits. Mixed, crushed, dampened and molded, the raw brick had a green color. It was set by hand onto large, movable platforms. Old timers recall the physical labor involved as a green brick pitcher tossed the clay bricks, sometimes two and three in each hand, to the catcher above, who stacked them in the kiln. The catcher often used old leather shoe soles, cut individually for each hand, to help curb the blisters. Teen-age boys were hired as "sand monkeys"-workers who threw sand on the bricks so they wouldn't stick together in the kiln. Many long-time employees started out their careers that way.
The bricks were fired in the kiln and shrunk one inch in eight inches when burned to the point of vitrification. The kilns had to be cooled and cleaned between firing.
By 1948 paving bricks were no longer in demand, so the company switched over to producing the 2x4x8 inch facing bricks used for buildings. In 1952 the equipment was updated and "continuous" kilns were put in. The gas-fired drying and baking replaced the coal fires and cooling down the kilns was no longer necessary. Production went up and air pollution went down.
The brickyard officially closed in 1974. The Alton Brick Company, which is owned by Marge Schott, who also owns the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, owns the ground. The brickyards are silent, but for many old-timers, the memories remain.