Natalie L. Coolidge

From time to time we will bring you interesting stories of some of the many businesses that have been located in Killingly and the surrounding area. The subjects of this article were the sources of the millions of bricks used to construct many of the fine buildings in our town as well as being shipped to other large cities.

Following is a description of Alexander’s Brick Yard that was found in the Windham County Transcript, May 27, 1869:

Alexander’s Brick Yard is located “about a mile north of Dayville depot, by the side of the railroad track. The sheds covering the ground where the brick are burned are seven hundred and fifty feet in length. The yards for drying the brick before burning extend back some six or eight rods, where a large engine is located which turns a shaft the whole length of the sheds. Along this shaft at suitable distances are placed eight mills for grinding the clay and moulding the brick.

“When the weather permits, from sixty to seventy thousand are made daily. About sixty men are employed throughout the brick-making season. Mr. Alexander is now entirely out of brick and is unable to supply one half the demand for them. These brick are esteemed of a superior quality and hence the demand.

“Like all other business there is risk in this. He lost the making of eighty-five thousand one day last week by the rain—occasioning a loss of some four or five hundred dollars. The business, however, must be quite remunerative, the prices being between twice and three times as high as formerly. The labor is greatly lessened by the aid of improved machinery. I am told there are but few larger establishments of the kind in the country. The engine is employed in winter in sawing a large quantity of lumber.

“Mr. Alexander, we understand, has purchased a large brickyard near Providence, where he contemplates carrying on the business more extensively than here. If his success shall but half equal his energy and perseverance we entertain no fears for the result.”

A few years ago Sam Litke of Brooklyn donated several bricks from The Quinebaug Brick Company to the museum of the Killingly Historical Society. In preparation for a display in the museum Sam was interviewed and was kind enough to provide us with the following information:

Information from the deed to August Litke (father) and Waclaw/Walter Litke (his son) dated September 20, 1919:
Israel Bennett to Thomas O. Talbot – August 25, 1902 – Recorded in Brooklyn Land Records, Vol. 7, Pg. 60
Quinebaug Brick Company to Thomas O. Talbot – August 14, 1908 – Recorded in Brooklyn Land Records, Vol. 17, Pg. 322

The Quinebaug Brick Company must have been started pre-1771 as bricks made there were used to build Old Trinity Church foundation in 1771.

A legal notice in the Windham County Transcript, March 30, 1881, contains the Articles of Association of The Quinebaug Brick Company becoming a Connecticut corporation located in the town of Brooklyn. Shares were owned by Esquare [sic] B. Miller, Aaron T. Walker, Vincent Bowen, and Sidney D. Waters.

The brick house on Brick Yard Road in which the superintendent or overseer lived was built in 1813.

The description of the yard and the process of making the bricks was told to Sam Litke as a young boy by a sea captain who lived on Route 6 just before Brick Yard Road in the house where Phil & Muriel Stedman now live. The sea captain had heard the stories from Thomas O. Talbot who purchased the brick yard property from the Quinebaug Company.

The property was ideal for making bricks because there were eight ponds containing clay along Long Brook that runs through the area. Sam said that there was an abundance of evidence that the local Indians had also found this clay useful in making their pots long before there ever was a brick company. He found pottery shards and 95 Indian arrowheads around the yard. While digging out old bricks, he also found money that was used in colonial days. Philomen Adams some sixty years ago made milk pans, jugs, and other ware from clay taken from this place and carried to Allen Hill.

Articles from 1883 and 1894 publications attest to the prosperity of the brickyard, stating their production of first class bricks was some 4,000,000 annually.

There evidently were many people working there. Besides the boss’s brick house near the road, there was the paymaster’s house in the center of the yard, which was about the size of 3 or 4 football fields, so he could keep an eye on the workers. Some slept there since there were bunks in it. That house was in existence until it was destroyed in the 1938 hurricane. More of the help lived on the back of the property near the swamp. Evidence of at least eight stone-sided dug wells has been found supporting maybe sixteen families.

The brick making process started with clay being dug out of one of
the ponds contained in an area of some twenty-five acres, the clay being five or six feet in depth, and formed into bricks. The wet bricks could be piled on pallets to air dry. The trademark of the yard would be stamped into the brick—in this case we have seen a square hole and a round hole made with the end of an appropriately shaped stick. Then the bricks were stacked in the kilns out back to be fired.

When it was time to ship them out, the bricks were loaded into a wagon drawn by four horses and were taken to railroad stations in Danielsonville, Plainfield and Pomfret Landing heading for Willimantic, Norwich and Providence. Two wagons every day would leave for Danielsonville and after unloading that took all day, would return in the evening ready to start again the next day. There were sixteen teams of horses used—four to a team.

Sam said there is a stone with an arrow on it on an old (now overgrown) wagon trail that came out on Church Street, Brooklyn, near Old Trinity Church. This was a guide for the slaves and Indians who were transporting the finished brick.

Yes, it was said there were mostly slaves, Indians and children performing much of the labor.

The bricks were found desirable for use in building large new mills in Rhode Island and the Sabin L. Sayles Company in Dayville (more familiarly known as Wm. Prym’s). The tenement houses in Quebec Square, East Brooklyn, large elegant blocks of stores in Olneyville, RI, and smaller structures in Providence, Norwich and other places in southern New England were constructed with this fine material.

The office of the company was located in Danielsonville. In 1883 the President was Sabin L. Sayles; Treasurer, Charles A. Russell; Charles R. Palmer, resident agent; and George Benjamin, overseer. In 1894 Russell Bailey was secretary/treasurer with William Benjamin as superintendent.

In a May 10, 1900, Windham County Transcript article it stated the Brooklyn brickyard was very busy supplying brick for the chimney at Dyer Dam.

It is believed the Quinebaug Brick Company moved its operation to Torrington, CT because there became too much water on the land to manage properly. They had been using drainage ditches (some of which can still be seen) but evidently could not pump sufficient water out.