Better Know A Brick: Part 5- Face Vs. Common

Anatomy of A Rowhouse, Bricks, Reclaimed Bricks
A brick is a brick is a brick. Or is it? Here we must take issue with this hasty Gertrude Stein-ism and declare that there is a massive amount of variety in what most might consider to be just another pile of bricks.
It’s no secret that bricks vary from region to region (thanks to differing clays, sizing standards, and traditions of either using, or not using, a frog) but even among bricks laid in the very same house, there is quite a diverse mix on display.
face brick vs common brick

Cutaway of a corner rowhouse showing three types of brick: face brick up front with a thin layer of white lime-Portland mixed mortar, common brick directly behind it with sloppy mortar work, and ‘hard’ brick for the side wall.

Before delving too deep into the nuances of kiln placement and firing temperature (saved for a future post), let’s begin with apples and oranges, the face bricks and common bricks.
Common bricks make up the vast majority of the Baltimore rowhouse. While there are various types of common bricks used to create the party walls, rear wall, and interior wythe of the front wall, they are all essentially the same brick with the same dimensions and basic properties. These bricks can be crude affairs: sizes can vary by a 1/4″ from brick to brick and corners are often imperfect.
Common Brick Side 2

This group of common bricks, (post-salvage and dry stacked without mortar) shows their irregular nature. Some chips and cracks occur during the salvage process, but these bricks were born imperfect.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, common bricks, in Baltimore and elsewhere, were almost always made relatively close to the construction site, probably within a span of a couple miles. Before widespread use of the automobile, these bricks would have been carted by mule, so proximity was key. Once they arrived on site, they’d be laid rather quickly in thick mortar beds.
Why the thick beds? Pardon the following SAT question: Gustav the bricklayer is making a wall. Bricks cost 5 cents apiece, and mortar costs virtually nothing. He can use either 1/16″ or 1/2″ mortar beds: which will allow him to use the least amount of bricks, thereby saving a ton of money?
brick thick mortar bed

Common bricks in situ, showing super fat and sloppy mortar beds.

Beyond decreasing material needs, thick beds enabled the mortar to set consistently around the rough edges of the common brick, allowing for straight courses.
Now let’s move on to face brick, a different beast altogether. Face brick is used on the…face of our rowhouses. These bricks are harder, more standardized, and more durable than your garden variety common brick. Whereas common bricks were often made from clay that had received minimal screening, face bricks were composed of finer clays that were less contaminated with pebbles and other impurities. They were fired at higher temperatures for longer, making them extremely solid and near weatherproof. Check out some examples in the gallery below:
The crisp edges of face brick meant that thinner mortar beds could be used to beautiful effect. Around the turn of the century, face brick were often laid in a thin stripe of a lime-Portland cement mix.
During the 19th century, Baltimore became famous for its pressed face brick and shipped the beautiful product up and down the East coast. By 1910, however, trade winds had changed, and the city that had once been a foremost producer of face brick became a major importer of it, as train cars full of face brick from Western Pennsylvania and Ohio flooded Baltimore. As new rows popped up along the city’s eastern and western peripheries, the houses were fronted with the telltale yellows and browns of PA and OH bricks. These bricks are nearly indestructible- if you see a Formstoned house on one of these rows, you’re witnessing the work of a damn good salesman.
iron spot row

Row of homes in East Baltimore with iconic iron-spot face brick

New Series: Lumber Stamps of Baltimore

Anatomy of A Rowhouse, Baltimore Lore, Reclaimed Wood, Salvage
Old houses are filled with treasure. Sometimes, that treasure takes the form of old letters, photographs, newspapers, and other odds and ends that attest to the human presence that once filled a home. In the salvage world, the bounty is in the building materials themselves, the wood, brick, and stone that spent generations as parts of a house.
Occasionally, the treasure occupies both categories, and that is what we are concerned with here today.
Behold the scrawled name of Heise & Bruns, a lumber company that operated in our fair city from the 1860s to the 1920s, and the stamp of William Applegarth & Son, a shipping and commission house incorporated in 1850.
It's hard to make out, but this joist features the stamp of "Wm. APPLEGARTH & SON" and the painted names of "Heise & Bruns"

It’s hard to make out, but this joist features the stamp of “Wm. APPLEGARTH & SON” and the painted names of “Heise & Bruns”

First, let’s examine Heise & Bruns. The firm was started by German immigrants William Heise and John Bruns in 1862. Their offices and yard were at the intersection of Concord and Eastern Avenues (currently the site of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technolody, in Harbor East).
In this map fro 1876, you can see the location of the Heise & Bruns yard and offices. (Map courtesy of the Huntingfield Map Collection from the Maryland State Archives, made available to us by the always helpful, generous, and inspiring Eli Pousson from Baltimore Heritage)

In this map from 1876, you can see the location of the Heise & Bruns yard and offices. (Map courtesy of the Huntingfield Map Collection from the Maryland State Archives, made available to us by the always helpful, generous, and inspiring Eli Pousson from Baltimore Heritage)

The yard was the largest in Baltimore, occupying 30,000 square feet, with room for one million boardfeet of lumber. As you can see in the schematic below, from old Sanborn insurance maps, at Heise & Bruns, they did it all: in addition to fulfilling the raw lumber needs of a growing city, the firm produced doors, windows, trim, lath and shingles.
sanbornweb01In Baltimore, Gateway to The South, Liverpool of America, a monograph from 1898 extolling the virtues of this bustling city, the authors were kind enough to note that “Mr. Heise is one of Baltimore’s progressive and enterprising younger business men, and the firm as a whole, are gentlemen of that leading and public-spirited class which is accomplishing most towards keeping our city at the the front in trade and commerce and bringing its resources and advantages most prominently to the attention of the country at large.”
William Applegarth & Son made their money operating ships up and down the Atlantic Coast.  William was from a prominent Maryland family; he quickly moved from captaining ships to owning them, and eventually he became a master broker, overseeing a sizable fleet. In 1860, the value of William Applegarth’s real estate was listed as $13,000, while his personal wealth was estimated at $10,000.
In addition to ferrying loads of salt from the Caribbean and granite from Port Deposit, the Applegarth concern sent schooners up the Susquehanna towards the rapidly denuding pine forests of Pennsylvania. The image below, from the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, shows how the tall stands of Eastern White Pines that flourished in much of the state were clearcut, yielding boatloads (literally) of valuable lumber that made its way to cities across the Midwest and East Coast.
William died in 1873, but his sons Nathaniel and Thomas operated the company long after his passing out of their offices at 507 E Pratt, just down the street from the Heise & Bruns lumberyard.
It seems likely that our joist was stamped by the Applegarths as cargo, then painted with the Heise & Bruns name once it had been taken into inventory, or perhaps once it was being ready to be sent to a builder. After the joist had been set in its pocket, it would have had lath and plaster applied to its bottom and floorboards nailed into its top; strip by strip, board by board, the names on the joist would have been obscured as the piece of wood completed the journey from raw material, to usable lumber, to an invisible structural member of a Baltimore rowhouse.

Ghosts of Port Street: Part I (Stephen Bohdal, The Wonderful Wireworker)

Ghosts of Baltimore
900 n port

900 N Port Street, home to the Bohdal family beginning in 1908

The house at 900 N Port Street was only a year or two old when the 1910 census was taken. In that house lived the Bohdal family: Stephen, the 26 year-old head of the household (at least as listed on the census) lived with his wife, Eva, who was 28. The two of them had emigrated from Austria several years before, and lived with their three daughters, Annie, Antonie, and Mary. Filling out the household were Stephen’s mother, Dora, his brother, Michael, and a boarder named Jack Kardos. Oh wait, there’s more- Charles and Rose Nence, another Austrian couple, lived in the house, as well.
That makes 10 folks sharing the 900 square feet or so of 900 N Port Street.
A pile of reclaimed wood sits waiting to be processed in the Bohdal's living room, 107 years after they moved in

A pile of reclaimed wood sits waiting to be processed in the Bohdal’s living room, 107 years after they moved in.

Stephen Bohdal was a wireworker, as was his brother, Michael, and their boarder Jack. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what sort of wire factory these fellows worked at- turns out that there was once a television show that had something to do with Baltimore and wire, so a Google search for “Baltimore + wire” isn’t too helpful.
But wireworking was once a popular trade here in Baltimore; window screens, steel cables, telegraph lines all relied on folks like the Bohdal brothers toiling away in wire factories.
Bohdal Wire works

(Image taken from 1914 Annual Report of the Bureau of Statistics and Information of Maryland)

But Stephen Bohdal would not toil forever: by 1913, Stephen Bohdal owned a wire factory at 701 Ensor Street, and by 1930 he owned a bigger factory and was living down in Curtis Bay.
To what do we attribute his success? All those years messing with wire seemed to have paid off for Mr. Bohdal, as his familiarity with the material resulted in him being awarded a patent for a “Combined Coat and Skirt Hanger” in 1925. See his fantastical contraption below:

bohdal hanger

Introducing: Port St and Bradford St!

Deconstruction
Things have wrapped up nicely on Eager Street, which means it’s time to introduce our two newest projects: the 900 block of N Port St and the 1200 block of N Bradford St.
900 block of N Port Street. (Image courtesy of Kalani Gordon and her wonderful photo-essay about our work which you can find here: darkroom.baltimoresun.com/2015/07/tearing-down-baltimore-brick-by-brick/#1

900 block of N Port Street. (Image courtesy of Kalani Gordon and her wonderful photo-essay about our work which you can find by clicking HERE!

Port Street (above) is a familiar scene for us, as it’s just around the corner from the 2400 block of Eager Street. Bradford is a few blocks to the north, on the other side of the train tracks, but very much in the same neighborhood as our other projects. The blocks are shown below in a 1915 map.

1915 map

The houses on both blocks sure do look familiar, and for good reason: it appears as though both blocks were built by our old friend Frank Novak. The houses on Eager Street were built between 1907 and 1908, and it seems that the 900 block of N Port followed shortly thereafter. 1200 N Bradford was built around the same time, perhaps several months after Port Street was completed. By this time, Novak had essentially laid claim to this section of East Baltimore, so it’s safe to assume that he’s our builder.
The 1200 block of N Bradford Street

The 1200 block of N Bradford Street

Between the two blocks, we’ll have 19 more houses to deconstruct, which should provide us with a steady supply of work and salvaged materials, but also a fresh batch of the stories that these buildings tell.

Find of the Day

Bricks
Documenting an ongoing project through a blog is often an exercise in pacing: there can only be so many breathtaking, white-knuckled, big-reveal wowza posts, so a reliable bench of less revelatory material is necessary.
In ordinary circumstances, our last post on brick fingerprints would serve as the “gee, cool!” post. Some less thrilling content might follow in the days to come, while we held on to the next crowd-pleasing post for a later date.
These are not ordinary circumstances. Today is June 22nd, 2015. Presented without further comment is something we found on site today:

june22 brick

Brick Fingerprints

Deconstruction, Reclaimed Bricks
File this one under Things You Don’t Find During Traditional Demolition- bear with me:
By the time our bricks were fired in 1906, mechanization had made significant inroads in the brick industry. Throughout the mid-19th century, both American and English brickmakers cum inventors devised machines to hasten the brickmaking process, harnessing steam power to drive an ever-evolving array of fantastical contraptions like the one you see below.
Brick Making Machine

This machine, made by Bradley & Craven, forced slugs of clay into molds. (Image courtesy of fotolibra.com)

The machines performed many of the duties once assigned to workers: rather than being hand-molded one or several at a time, machines could produce ribbons of clay that were then cut into dozens of bricks with a quick swoop of a mechanical arm. Other machines pressed clay neatly into molds and sent them along a conveyor belt towards drying racks.
brick human machine

Though machines could perform the work of several men, humans were often still required to move the brick from one step in the brickmaking process to the next. (Image courtesy of flickr.com)

While the relentless pursuit of efficiency and profit resulted in the mechanization of much of the work formerly done by humans, it by no means obviated the need for workers in the brickmaking industry. Around the turn of the century, brickmaking operations often relied on humans to move bricks along from one step in the process to the next; though bricks could be machine-molded or cut, workers often handled the bricks as they were sent to drying sheds and, ultimately, the kiln.
We see evidence of this all over the place in East Baltimore. Every so often, we come across a brick with clear fingerprints impressed upon the surface. It’s highly unlikely that our bricks were fully hand-molded when they were made during the first decade of the 20th century, but it’s certain that they were shepherded along the process by several sets of human hands. Our best guess is that the fingerprints landed on our bricks after they were molded but before they’d been fully dried, when a worker lugged them to a drying shed.
brick fingerprints
The giants of modern brick production rely on an almost human-less process, with robots and highly specialized machines guiding the brick along a fully automated sequence. There are machines that stamp textures into the surface of the brick, and other machines that spray on layers of dye to give bricks a “historic look”.
The fingerprinted bricks on our sites are constant reminders that in 1906, real people, real Baltimoreans, made these bricks. A year or so after they were made, real people laid these bricks. And now, more than 100 years later, real people are salvaging these bricks.

reclaimed bricks baltimore

Eager Street Recap: By The Numbers

Bricks, Deconstruction, Reclaimed Bricks, Reclaimed Wood, Salvage
Things are winding down on Eager Street (stay tuned for more info on the latest block we’re deconstructing!) so we thought it’d be a nice time to go through some numbers. Fear not, arithmophobes, though the following numbers are staggering, no math is involved.

Number of houses deconstructed:

35houses

Number of bricks salvaged:

BRICKS

Number of square feet of flooring salvaged:

FLOORING

Number of board feet of lumber salvaged:

BOARDFEET

Number of nails pulled:

NAILS

Landfill diversion rate:

95diversion rate

Number of tons of salvaged material:

salvagetons

Number of jobs created for BALTIMORE residents:

JOBSCREATED

All good numbers and all good news. The better news is that all of these numbers are going to increase with every project we take on: more houses, more bricks, more jobs, more of an impact in our beautiful, charming, working city.

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.

Let’s Learn About: Wane

Anatomy of A Rowhouse, Reclaimed Wood
We resisted calling this post Wane’s World, so we’re already off to a good start. What is wane? Or, more specifically, what is wane as it relates to wood?
The word itself is familiar enough, as in “waning strength” or “wax and wane.” The etymology is worth exploring- “wane” comes from the Old English “wana” meaning shortage or defect, which in turn comes from the Germanic “wano” which roughly translates to insanity.
Wane is shown as the dark triangle on the right (Image courtesy of decks.com)

Wane is shown as the dark triangle on the right (Image courtesy of decks.com)

In the wood world, wane is a rounded corner on a piece of milled lumber caused by the natural contour of a tree. In other words, wane is what happens when a tree isn’t quite big enough to yield that last piece of square lumber. Wane doesn’t necessarily weaken a piece of wood, but it does decrease the surface area for fastening floorboards and lath.
This stud features a couple waney patches. This is as the result of the knot you see towards the bottom of the piece, which would have grown into a branch, thus creating a bulge in the tree.
This stud features a couple waney patches. This is as the result of the knot you see towards the bottom of the piece, which would have grown into a branch, thus creating a bulge in the tree.
We come across quite a bit of wane. In some cases, traces of bark help us identify the species of tree which gave its life to become a stud or joist.
wane bark stud

From looking at the inner bark on this patch of wane, we can tell that this stud came from a loblolly pine tree.

In the woodworking world, there’s a strong demand for live-edge furniture, that is, furniture that features the outermost part of the tree, bark and all. This furniture is usually made from slabs from felled trees, but maybe a “wane-edge” cottage industry will crop up, too.