New Series: The Pavers of Baltimore

Bricks
In our last BKAB, we talked about how the brick frog served as the canvas for early attempts at marketing and branding; brickmakers would mold their bricks to feature a last name, initials, or even a brand name. We then noted that the bricks on Eager Street lack both frogs and any identifying marks, and teased you with a promise that we’d explain why.
This post is not the fulfillment of that promise, but it does have to do with brick branding. Or rather, it has to do with block branding.
These men take a break from laying paving blocks. (Image courtesy of http://www.vintag.es)

These men take a break from laying paving blocks. (Image courtesy of http://www.vintag.es)

Blocks, also called pavers, are used to pave streets, and are essentially large bricks that are fired higher and longer in order to make them stronger. Blocks were often made from clays with high mineral content, which made the finished product exceptionally durable. Blocks weigh about twice as much as common bricks, a product of greater dimensions, but also greater density.
Cities didn’t start using asphalt as a common paving surface until the 1920s- before then, road paving was largely done with blocks, and these rock-hard relics of another era, many of them in the same condition as when they were laid, can be found in most any old city under layers of new paving material.
ny paving blocks

Laying block along 28th Street in New York City

Walking the streets of Baltimore, you may have seen our fair city’s most notable contribution to the block world, the famous “Baltimore Block” made by the Westport Paving Company- we’ll dedicate a post in this series to that block at some point. The city is chock full of these Baltimore Blocks, but you’ll also notice dozens of other varieties from surrounding states, begging the question: if common brick manufacture was largely a localized industry, why was Baltimore shipping in pavers from other parts of the country?

baltimore block

The answer seems to be one of specialized supply meeting overwhelming demand. Block manufacture required better kilns, specific types of clay, access to rail, and greater capital. While it was relatively simple for Joe Brickmaker to set up a yard and cart his brick around town, Joe Blockmaker had much greater initial capital outlays, required specialized machinery and more skilled labor, and needed rail access to tap into the urban markets that went through pavers by the trainfull.
On Eager Street, we’ve come across several varieties of blocks, and we figured it’s high time to document them. First on the list, is the mighty Shawmut paver from Shawmut, PA.

Shawmut Paving Brick

On this block, you can see the raised letters as well as the raised lug in each corner- these served to highlight the Shawmut brand, but also acted as built-in spacers, as the blocks were laid on their side and then filled in with a sand mixture.
Shawmut doesn’t seem to exist anymore as its own incorporated municipality, but you can find it on a map as a dozen or so buildings clustered around Mead Run, about an hour north of Punxsutawney near the Allegheny National Forest. Shawmut was never a large city, but it had excellent rail access and was well positioned geographically to supply to Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Baltimore markets.
shawmut ad

(Image courtesy of brickfrog.wordpress)

The Shawmut Vitrified Paving Brick Works was the business of Alfred Yates, an Englishman who began his career as a brickmaker in Boston before inventing his own kiln and expanding into the more specialized paving brick industry.
Shawmut blocks were priced around $2.78 per square yard of material.
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