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Bricks in the River

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

A bit of a hybrid post, as we’ll be looking at a piece of connected history between Brazil, Indiana and Indianapolis. To set the scene, I enjoy fishing, and I especially enjoy fishing in the White River, not only because it is a short distance from my home, but it also has a good population of smallmouth bass. Contrary to much of the discussion of late about reimagining the White River and opening it to recreation, the river is already great for kayaking and has good fishing, especially north of 16th St. You just have to make an effort to go enjoy it.

Anyway, I digress. When fishing the river, I will almost always wade and will work my way up and down the river bat various location between 38th St. and Broad Ripple. One day last fall while fishing near Warfleigh, I noticed a few bricks at the water line with lettering on them. As I was returning to my car, I stopped to investigate and found there was actually a large number of bricks, many in the water, while some were lodged in the bank. Clearly they had been dumped there at some point (I've seen lots of old stuff dumped in the river), and if not for the lowered water levels due to a short dry period, I would have missed them. But I was more interested in where they originally came from. I grabbed a few in my back pack and brought them home.

A quick Google search for Brazil, Indiana and bricks lead me to this site, which referenced the same bricks I had found, and the Indiana Paving Brick & Block Company of Brazil, Indiana. (sometimes also referred to as the Indiana Paving Brick Company.)

Apparently, Brazil was a center of brick (and other clay based products) manufacturing in the latter 19th and early 20th century, thanks to large deposits of clay in the area. (just a coincidence that the county was named Clay…that was for Henry Clay.) Indiana Paving Brick began in 1891, and was owned by W. W. Winslow of Indianapolis, where it appears the company also maintained its primary offices. Indiana Paving Brick was quickly followed by several other manufacturers of clay items, ranging from bricks to blocks, to sewer piping. These manufacturers, along with local coal mines, and the aforementioned clay mines, resulted in multiple rail lines intersecting in Brazil, facilitating the dispersal being produced there to make it to Indianapolis, and beyond.

Brazil was no stranger to strikes at the brick and clay plants during the early 1900's. Newspapers were replete with reports of strikes and labor issues surrounding the various operations in the area. In June 1903, thirty workers walked out at the Indiana Paving Brick & Block Company plant after their request for a 25 cent pay increase was denied. A report in the Indianapolis Star noted that owner W. W. Winslow then replaced the striking workers with African American workers: 

No follow up reports were found to confirm whether any violence resulted in 1903, although violence wasn't always avoided. A strike in October 1916 included attacks on person and property and the liberal use of dynamite:

Aside from strikes, the brick manufacturers were facing other problems in the early 1900's. While bricks had been a important material for improving roads and sidewalks, other materials, namely concrete and asphalt. In order to promote the glory that was brick, an Indianapolis based trade group called the Indiana Paving Brick Publicity Bureau was developed to help promote the use of brick in paving projects. Large ads were included in prominent local papers detailing the price difference for projects using bricks and other building materials. The ad at left appeared in the Indianapolis News in November of 1917, showing brick being the cheaper of three options for street repairs, and encouraging "patching money" used for asphalt and cement streets be used for brick streets instead. The Star and News from 1895-1920 is full of reports of numerous contracts bring awarded to various brick companies, although in the end, concrete and asphalt won out. 

Apparently I'm not the only one to find old bricks in the White River. A post on this forum from 2005 details the author's experience finding bricks just outside of downtown. Some of these bricks will occasionally pop up on eBay. While I've seen examples like the bricks I found posted in the past, at the time of writing this, there were no active auctions, although bricks from other Brazil manufacturers were available.

Anyone else spot Brazil, Indiana bricks or pavers around Indy? I’m guessing there are still some alleys, side streets, or patios which may have these bricks.

UPDATE 12/20/18

While researching for my recent post on the Ferger Drugstore, I ran across an advertisement in the Indianapolis City Directory for 1913 for Indiana Paving Brick Company, complete with a illustration of a brick which matches the one's I pulled from a river

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