Sunday, August 2, 2015

Monroeville Brickyard

Recently I received an email from a gentleman living in Florida who had grown up in Monroeville. He asked me about the old brickyards in Monroeville and if I had been out there. He sent me some information about the yards and today seemed like a great day to go take a look. My neighbor and I loaded up our bikes and headed out. 

 

The gentleman who wrote me is currently doing research on the brickyards so this post will most likely grow as more information rolls in. In the meantime here's a brief history from the Trafford Historical Society's website. The brickyard was in operation from 1905 until a fire destroyed the operation in the 1960's. During the time it was in operation the brickyard saw several owners as well as several name changes. 

 

In 1903 E.J. Sweeney purchased 30 acres along with a stone quarry with the intent of building a brickyard. One of the first contracts he won was for 3,000,000 bricks to be used in the construction of the courthouse in Greensburg. A few years later Sweeney sold his business. By 1910 the brickyard was known as the Wynn and Starr Company. By the 1920's the Wynn and Starr Company employed 32 people and was serviced by a spur off the Turtle Creek Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The brickyard is located on the Allegheny County side of Turtle Creek. There are bridge abutments and collapsed piers extant in the creek from this spur. 

 

Henry Wynn died in 1931. After this the brickyard went up for sale and was purchased by Albert Starr who renamed it the Houston-Starr Brickyard. It would be known by this name until the 1940's. At least two different companies operated the brickyard after Houston-Starr in the 1950's. In the 1960's a fire destroyed the brickyard and it shut down for good. 

 

The Trafford Historical Society link can be found here along with vintage photos of the brickyard. Brickyard



And here are my photos from today.

 

A couple photos of some of the accidents in the past off the Turtle Creek Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.



Finding the spur that went over to the brickyard was pretty easy. Apparently this bridge got washed out sometime in the 1980's. The track that remains where the bridge once was has been converted to a rope swing for a swimming hole.

Looking across the creek. It's pretty obvious that a brickyard was located nearby.

A collapsed pier from the spur bridge.

My neighbor Bill out on the track/swing.

The abutment on the Westmoreland County side of the creek.

Looking down Turtle Creek.

After getting across the creek and heading upstream toward the brickyard. The first structure we came across was this old house.

The front room was completely packed with ceramics molds.


Another mostly collapsed structure on the way to the brickyard.

This is the first of the buildings related to the brickyard.

Inside were these massive compressors. We're thinking this was a boiler house for something. They more than likely mined clay here. This might be related to that.

Very intact machinery.

 




Cooper Bessemer Compressor.



Tank outside of the compressor house.

 


Another one.

 


Back side of the compressor house.



Moving on. Next was this big chimney smokestack.

 

We took a look through the hole.

 


Looking down.


Looking up.

Part of an old foundation.

The jewel of the site. The kilns!!

 


Some metal hanging down from the top of the kilns.


The floor of the kiln.

Looking through.

The floor.

Some of the product still sitting in the kiln. Unused bricks. Enough to make you drool.

The wall of the kiln.

An incredible variety of bricks.

Coming out the other end.

Outside of the kilns. We aren't sure what this was. It looks like a smaller kiln.

An arch on the hillside.

Not sure of its function.

 


A little further down. The ruins of another kiln.


Bottom of the arch.

The outside of the other kiln.

More bricks.


 


More kiln ruins.

 


We decided to continue going straight up the brick road to see if we could find a different way out of the site.


At this point we were very high above Turtle Creek.

Next we came across these ruins of an old steam shovel just rusting away in the woods.

The Thew Shovel Company was started by Captain Richard Thew. Thew was a Captain on the great lakes and was in charge of ore ships. In the 1890's steam shovels were operated on tracks. Thew encountered problems unloading his ore and with the help of H.H. Harris built the first Thew Steam Shovel in Cleveland in 1895.

These shovels ran on steel traction tread.

 




 


I can't say it enough. It's amazing what you can find in the woods.


Cable still on the spool.

The boom of the shovel laying in the weeds.


Incredible!

 

16 comments:

  1. What an awesome find Mike! I had no idea there was a brickyard in Monroeville/Trafford. Neat this stuff is just hidden away in the woods slowing decaying away.
    Eric Johnson

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    1. Thanks Eric! Good to hear from you again. A friend and me were just wondering how we both missed that all this time. I had no idea about it either until I got that email.

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  2. Just amazing! I wouldn't venture into the woods today less I was covered head to toe! You continue to document important but neglected history!

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  3. Great pics!!! It is amazing what you can find in the woods. Research the Patton Pa Clay Works. I imagine there is little if anything left of the factory but when i was young I was told it was the largest brick factory in the world, no kidding. I remember it being very large, on the outskirts of Patton PA immediately adjacent to Route 36.

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    1. Hey Paul!! I'll check it out. Do you remember which direction out of town on 36 it was?

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  4. My family and I went on a walk along the newly opened Westmoreland trail back in June, we explored the area around the RR bridge where the old truck was in the creek. I swear the red truck you showed in the first two picks was not there in June. I don't know if it came from the hillside above or got washed in during the heavy rail & high water in June. The other truck just under the bridge has been there since the '80's according to a friend of mine who grew up in the area. We just saw some parts of the brickyard from across the creek. I want to go back in the spring and explore before the vegetation grows in too thick. Thanks for the pics.

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  5. That's my friends red ford truck...

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    1. The upside down one in the water? How did he end up there? Is he alright?

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    2. There are Coke ovens on a hill side in McKeesport on 5th ave.

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  6. Yes the red ford. We went camping at the "shades" and he thought it was a good idea to try and cross the creek.... He is ok.

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    1. I guess it wasn't a good idea to try and cross the creek. Glad he's OK. Shame about the truck though.

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  7. I found a big pile of glass chunks across creek from yard by bridge piling. Park of process?

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    1. Interesting. I found a bunch of old ceramics molds in a building back there. Maybe it had something to do with that?

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  8. Anyway to post picture of glass I found to see if anyone knows?

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  9. I grew up in Monroeville off Saunders Station Road. When I was very young my father and I would walk down the railroad tracks and go into the brickyard. This would have been in the early 1980s. The bridge was still there then. Over the years it fell into the creek and eventually was taken away. The buildings were all still standing, but starting to show signs of decay. There were steel roofs over all of the kilns, and most of the area was paved and had rails for moving stacks of bricks around. There was an electric substation over near the big chimney. Small, made of four wood poles and lots of insulators. They made great targets for everyone that went there with .22s. Those big Cooper-Bessemer engines were part of a natural gas compressor station. They essentially put more pressure behind the gas to move it on down the line. They used to make a cool tooting noise. There are ranks of pipes just outside of the engine house on the one side. These were the exhaust, and they tooted a certain note. The operator could hear if one wasn't working based upon the sounds. old hit and miss engines that powered oil derricks up north had barkers on their exhausts-same reason. Sometime in the late 80s-early 90s they abandoned that compressor station. I would assume that modern plastic pipes can carry gas at much higher pressure eliminating the need for so many compressor stations. The house where the ceramics molds are was Mr. Kunkle's house. He passed away maybe 10 years ago and Gene Gornik the auctioneer had an auction there. Even then the water damage was bad in the house. They had to stop selling things out of the house because it was unsafe for his helpers. He sold a ton of old junk vehicles out of the yards all around the house. Some of the old trucks were brick haulers from the 60s. Apparently that dude never got rid of anything. That's all I can remember for the minute. I'm sure I'll recall more. I have a small collection of advertising stuff from the brickyard. I do have one of those black and yellow porcelain signs from Crescent Cement that also has the brickyard name on it. If anyone wants to chat more about it, my email is deconstructionguybill@yahoo.com. Somewhere I have some pics I took in the early 90s once when I went down there. Gotta watch out for copperhead snakes in the warm weather. that and the entire place gets grown it terribly!

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    1. Wow! You really know the place! I'm going to shoot you an email, I'd like to see some of your collection. Thanks for commenting!

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