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Hannibal history: Material for old building foundations formed right in Hannibal

Local Legacies

By Mary Lou Montgomery

Published Dec. 12, 1981

Hannibal Courier-Post

Hannibal has a strong foundation. At least many of its buildings do.

During the early part of the 20th Century brickmaking was a big industry in Hannibal, and many of the buildings which stand today were made from locally produced bricks.

Today, barely a trace remains of the industry which once flourished. A story in the June 30, 1938 edition of the Hannibal Evening Courier-Post told the history of brickmaking in Hannibal.

“Even in the days when the lumber industry was the city’s largest business, there was considerable demand for bricks for erection of business houses, and three brick plants flourished in 1871.”

Hannibal’s last brick plant, located at the west end of Hope Street, operated until around 1918. It was shut down when the owners found they were unable to compete with large out-of-town plants which had the advantage of large-scale production.

It was started by Robert B. Elgin and Frank D. Richmond about 1900. They continued the business until high operating costs took their toll. They were contractors and used the entire output of their plant in buildings they erected.

“Although the brick manufacturing industry never was a large employer of labor, it contributed much to the city’s progress by providing a steady supply of building materials,” the article stated. “Although early Marion County histories do not record who started the first brick-making plant in Hannibal, the business was well established by 1871.”

It was revealed that in that year brick yards were being operated by J.C. Anderson at the western edge of the city, the firm of Bulkey and Peyton on Fulton Avenue and E. Glavin on Palmyra Avenue, now known as Mark Twain Avenue.

The firm of Hinton and Storrs operated a brick kiln at the foot of Broadway in 1885, according to a city directory of that year, and Berning and Holtman took over the brick plant formerly operated by Glavin on Palmyra Avenue near Grand.

Perhaps the primary reason that brickmaking became popular here was the abundance of clay in surrounding hills. The early plants mixed clay and straw by hand but later a mixer which resembled a huge wooden church was used. The mixing paddle was turned by a single horse walking around the mixing devise.

The most common method of firing the clay bricks was in open kilns, the molded clay being stacked in a manner to leave a space between the bricks. The outside of the kiln, called a casing, was made of finished bricks and sealed with clay, although frequently the casing was formed from unfired bricks.

Wood was used for fuel in the early plants, but later coal became popular.

The quality of the finished bricks depended upon their location in the kiln. Bricks nearest the fire were baked hardest and acquired the desired dark red color. These were used for face brick in the exterior walls of buildings.

Bricks which did not come in direct contact with the fire were lighter in color and would absorb water during heavy rains if used for facing. Consequently, these softer bricks were used for the inner walls.

Throughout the country the smaller brick yards were slowly replaced by larger, more centrally located plants. The Hannibal plants were unable to compete with larger modern plants and eventually ceased operation.

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