Pennsylvania ranks second in the United States in the production of clay products. In 1907 these products reached the value of $20,291,621, and of this amount the largest single item was for fire brick, $6,907,904. Common brick came next, with a value of $6,353,799. Over $1,000,000 of vitrified and face brick were produced.
The deposits of clay from which these products are made occur in five different classes: residual clays, due to the decay of shales, shaly sandstones or argillaceous limestones; alluvial clays deposited along the present stream valleys; clays deposited in the high level abandoned river channels and on river benches; coal measure plastic clay, usually underlying coal beds; coal measure flint, non-plastic clays.
Residual clays are the remains of broken down rocks of various kinds which have been carried by water to places in the channels of present or prehistoric rivers and there deposited in beds. Often these beds are covered by layers of rock.
Alluvial clays are deposited in the beds of streams by floods and ice dams of the glacial ages. Some of these deposits are in the beds of the present rivers and others are found in the ancient beds of the rivers of the past, far above the present water levels.
Practically every coal bed in this State is underlaid by a bed of clay, having a thickness of from one to fifteen feet. These clays are known as plastic and non-plastic, from the difference in their structure.
The plastic are divided into several classes, called by the names of the coal strata under which they lie. They are easily worked and form the basis of the greater part of the bricks and tiles made in this county. The Lower Kittanning clay is the most extensive and heaviest of these deposits.
Flint clays are the main source of the high grade furnace linings. In a large measure the great furnaces of this country are dependent on the flint clays for their continuance. Without these clays it would be impossible to carry on the iron industry, as there is no other substance which can be obtained so cheaply as a lining for the furnaces, where the heat rises to thousands of degrees of temperature.
This demand has given a high value to our flint clay deposits, for all flint clays are not capable of withstanding these high temperatures. Unless the plastic clays are favorably situated they are not profitable to work, but the flint clays are so valuable that they are mined in any location, even when far from transportation facilities. In that case the railroads are quick to construct lines to tap these deposits, if large enough.
Chemically, flint clay is almost identical with koalin, or potters' clay. It breaks into peculiar flat-sided fragments, and is not soft like other clays. In fact, most persons would call it rock. In the mines it is blasted out like coal, hoisted to the surface, ground in mills to dust and then mixed with other clays to cause it to stick together, after which water is added and it is moulded in machines to the shape desired.
The flint clays are often found in beds surrounded by the plastic clays, so that both can be mined at the same time. The largest deposits of flint clay in Armstrong county are at Johnetta and St. Charles.
These clays are made into many varieties of products in this county. Paving brick and building brick are made at Cowansville, St. Charles, Cowanshannock, Kittanning, Brady's Bend, Templeton and Johnetta. Sewer pipe is produced at St. Charles, Kittanning and Johnetta. The use of drain tile in this State is small, so the demand for it does not justify its manufacture at the present time. Points in the West where the demand is local and the clays are suitable have established kilns, thus obviating expensive and hazardous transportation.
The newly opened line of the Shawmut railroad through the northern part of the county has developed large deposits of clay and shale and they are rapidly being mined and shipped to the nearest kilns. As soon as possible other brick works will be established near the deposits and this section of the county, so long relapsed into disuse, will come once more to the front as a manufacturing community.
The strata of clay along the Shawmut road are so peculiarly formed that practically everything manufactured of burned clay and shale can be produced. Laboratory tests and experiments at various universities have secured excellent red, buff, gray and white face brick, fire and furnace brick, paving brick, fireproofing, drain tile and sewer pipe, crockeryware and pottery. These products are now being manufactured from the same strata of clay and shale nearer to transportation. It is only the lack of railroad facilities that has kept this district "closed" heretofore.
The first brickmaker of importance in the county was Paul Morrow of Kittanning, who began business in 1806 on lot No. 3, of the Armstrong plat, just outside of the borough limits. In 1809-10 he furnished the commissioners with 189,000 brick for the first courthouse. This plant was later operated by Robert Stewart, a colored man, in the period from 1813 to 1837. The next owner was John Hunt, in 1830, and he was followed by James Daugherty, and William Sirwell, Sr. McCauley Brothers also operated a brick works on Reynolds avenue, in the rear of the present Pennsylvania depot, in 1865-69.
Byron Killikelly, son of the famous Rev. B. B. Killikelly, was the first to introduce machinery into the manufacture of brick in the county. Daugherty afterwards bought his plant and machines. Daugherty & Sirwell had the honor of making the first pressed brick in the county, in 1851. Their works were located in the rear of the site of the present Gault Granary. John F. Nulton was also one of the old time brickmakers. H. D. and G. B. Daugherty were the founders of the Avenue Brick Works, on Grant avenue and Jacob streets, in 1866. In 1880 the plant was operated by G. B. Daugherty, and consisted of two kilns and a dry house, with a capacity of 4,500,000 bricks per annum. The output is about double that now, and the plant is operated by Daugherty Brothers. Red building brick is the principal product. W. B. Daugherty, one of the present proprietors, had the honor of laying the brick for the first building at Ford City. He and his brother also supplied the brick and built the first glass works for J. B. Ford & Co., the plate glass pioneers in this county. The Daughertys have recently discovered on their property on Grant avenue a fine pocket of flint clay in the middle of a deposit of ordinary fire clay. They are preparing to ship it to other points, as it is too refractory to be adapted to the manufacture of common red building brick.
The Phoenix Firebrick Works, established at Manorville in 1880 by Isaac Reese, was devoted entirely to the manufacture of Reese's Patent Silica Fire Brick, for furnace linings. After the development of the shale firebrick in other parts of the county the plant was purchased by a large Pittsburgh firm, the Harbison-Walker Co., and dismantled.
The Stewart Fire Brick Works were established in Mahoning township in 1872, the product being exclusively for furnace linings. Their present successors, the Climax Fire Brick Co., have enlarged their facilities and now manufacture several kinds of fire and paving brick and tiling.GIRTY MANUFACTURER
The different plants for the manufacture of clay products are well described in the sketches of the townships and boroughs where they are located. The total output is of a miscellaneous character and is difficult to compute, the production fluctuating according to the demand and season.
Details of the manufacture of brick according to modern methods will be found in the sketch of Johnetta borough. The plant at that place has a capacity of 100,000 per day; the Kittanning Brick and Fire Clay Co. have a capacity of 100,000; the Kittanning Clay Manufacturing Co., 50,000; the works of Upper Kittanning Brick Co., at Kaylor, 100,000; the plant at Cowanshannock, 50,000; the Cowansville works, 40,000; the Freeport plant, 40,000, the Climax works at St. Charles, 50,000, and Daugherty Bros. works at Kittanning, 10,000.
Computing the total bricks made in one day in the county at about 500,000, it is estimated that the length of the clay bars from which these bricks are cut, if placed end to end, would cover a distance of nearly twenty miles, and in one year would stretch over a length of 5,000 miles. These measurements are taken from the narrowest part of the brick--about two and one-half inches.
Mr. Nathan L. Strong, solicitor for the Shawmut railroad, has collected the most complete exhibit of the products of Armstrong county in existence, and will add to it from time to time. The collection now includes samples of raw clay of all qualities found in Armstrong county and vicinity, samples of rough and finished tile; rough and finished brick of all grades, sizes, and colors; wall tile, drain tile, pottery products, from rough crocks to finished enamel ware; samples of coal, shale, and various ores. The collection is being added to from time to time,, and while it is now undoubtedly the best in the county, it will probably become the best exhibit of western Pennsylvania mineral and earth products in existence.ęSource: Page(s) 394-399, History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania by Robert Walker Smith, Esq., Chicago: Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1883. Transcribed June 2000 by James R. Hindman for the Armstrong County Smith Project. Published 2000 by the Armstrong County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project.