When I bought my property in 2005, other than falling in love with the house that was built 50+ years ago and wanting acreage to garden and not hear my neighbors, I did not make an effort to get to know the property before closing. Soon after moving in, I realized there was evidence of an unpaved sunken road to the northern edge of the property and what appeared to be a building foundation just south of the sunken road that seemed too close to the main road to be a good house location. I asked around and found that it was an old store from the early 20th century to the mid-1960s. Old soda bottles still manage to migrate up and show themselves. We had that section of the property cleared of brush and moved the foundation stones to the back of the property so we could do some fruit tree planting.
Then this past summer I was having some work done a bit closer to the house and the man who I depend on for all kinds of work around the property came to the door with a brick in his hand. He handed to me and said, “I know you like old stuff. I found this over by the barn. It has some kind of writing on it and it doesn’t seem to be a regular brick.” I took it from him and had to agree it was larger, thicker and denser-feeling than the usual brick. I turned it over and tried to brush off the dirt and we slowly uncovered a parallelogram with one of its points down and the words, “Southern Clay Mfg Co” embossed in the center of the parallelogram. With that I had another history puzzle to solve.
I’m old enough to remember remnants of the brick road that was often referred to as the corduroy road because driving on it was a constant series of bumps as you drove over the bricks, much like running your hand over corduroy. Try riding a bicycle over the old brick road near U.S. 90 for the experience. I remember playing on a section of the road west of Jacksonville (we lived next to it) and my Mom has memories of driving on it with her Grandpa in his Ford Model A Tudor going to Sacred Harp sings or to the big city of Milton. She says that when they widened it a bit with pavement you got this interesting sensation of one side of the car bumping on bricks and the other driving on somewhat flatter pavement. Even as an adult, there were still a number of brick roads in downtown Jacksonville which are probably no longer there. We are lucky to still be able to see part of this east-west brick road across Florida just outside Milton going east toward Tallahassee and Jacksonville. So when I started trying to find out something about the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company, I was thrilled to find out they were instrumental in providing bricks for a number of early roads in Florida and south Alabama, and I’m sure many other areas of the South. I would like to share with you what I’ve discovered.
Southern Clay Manufacturing Company of Jersey City, New Jersey bought the Tennessee Paving Brick Company in 1902. The Tennessee Paving Brick Company was located in Robbins in Scott County, Tennessee. The new company produced paving bricks, fire and chemical bricks, clay sewer pipes, various construction bricks and telephone line conduit. By the late 1920s its paving bricks contracts were primarily in southern markets. The late 1920s saw the increased use of macadam paved roads and the hurricanes of that period temporarily ended the building boom in Florida. Then of course, the Depression came along a few years later and that spelled the end to many companies, including the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company.
According to one website I found, the brick stamp found on the brick on my property was used from 1902 until 1937. I was able to find that the company did contract to produce bricks for roads in Florida but the only areas I found mentioned specifically were St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and Miami. I am currently trying to find information on when the road in front of my house was paved and if it was a brick road before then. My guess would be it was paved some time during the 30s or 40s. Which leaves me wondering how this brick came to be on my property. Maybe it found its way when the road was being paved or maybe whoever lived on the property at that time liked it and picked it up from somewhere else. While I have found numerous bricks half-buried around my five acres, this is the only one, so far, that is obviously designed for roads. And finding this brick has lead me to researching the brick manufacturer and try to discover when some of the major roads in the area went from brick or dirt, to paved road.
Not everyone can find items on their property that hearkens back to an earlier period but we can all visit museums to learn more about our history, see and interact with artifacts from another period and put some of those artifacts from these earlier days in context. Some of my favorites to visit in the panhandle, and surrounding areas, are listed below. This is not a comprehensive list, just those I’ve found the most interesting. Visit them and support them. They provide a wonderful service in helping us understand our shared history.
- A History of the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company, Scott Co, TN website
- History of the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company, ebook, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Library website
- How Brick Streets Were Laid website
- Baker Block Museum – Baker
- Jay Historical Society & Museum – Jay
- Bagdad Village Museum – Bagdad
- Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site – Milton
- Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida – Valparaiso
- T. T. Wentworth, Jr. State Museum – Pensacola
- Thomas E. McMillan Museum and Alabama Room – Brewton, AL
- Some Museums of NW Florida website
- State Archives of Florida website