topsoil of West Point, and most of Gwynedd, is a thick
layer of shale. West Point has the good fortune of
having the softer shale of the "Brunswick Group" running
under it. Bricks
made of blocks of this shale are a superior building material, as they
don’t absorb water. Crushed shale can be mixed with clay and baked,
which forms a better brick than a brick made of clay alone.
These are "composite bricks" and were the main product
of the brickyard.|
Vaughn, son of Enos, operated the yard beginning in 1884. The
Vaughns lived in a farmhouse on the property until 1914. Whether
that farmhouse was the old Jones Farm house isn’t known, but it’s
probable. Enos began his brick company using several “Dutch Kilns”
to bake the composite bricks. One can imagine it was a pick and
shovel operation with back breaking manual labor to dig the shale
out of the ground.
years went by, demand for bricks increased. In 1914 there is
a record of two hundred thousand bricks made for a building on Bells
Mill Road in Chestnut Hill. Orders were also taken for several
buildings in Ambler. In October of 1914 a contract was made to
furnish bricks for the new sewer system in North Wales.
In December of 1914 Edward Vaughn
sold the brickyard to three men, A. H. Wills, H. W. Willet and
S. H. Thompson of the Royersford Brick Company. He kept 500,000
bricks to fill the orders made before the sale. An application was then made to charter a
corporation to be called “West Point Shale Brick Company.”
Vaughn's moved out of the farmhouse and Edward Brey moved in as the
“head farmer” for the brickyard. The Vaughn's moved to Garfield
In January of 1915 H. W. Willet did a study
and determined that by using the railroad to send bricks to
Lansdale, they could then be sent to Jenkintown and over the Bound
Brook Line and he could supply eastern Pennsylvania, northern New
Jersey and lower New York State with bricks. In March new
steam powered machinery was installed, along with train tracks
leading to the Stony Creek RR. By April there were 15 men employed,
a new force pump was installed and brick making was
resumed on the 3rd. At least two kilns were in operation
by the end of May and the largest kiln was set to be
fired, containing 300,000 bricks.
In July more improvements were made to the yard. 18,000 bricks a day were produced. 100,000 bricks
were delivered to build homes in Olney (Philadelphia). The company
also exported carloads of shale to other brick and tile making
In 1916 work was halted. The name of the
brickyard was changed to “Montgomery Shale Brick Company” with
officers H.W. Willet as president and John E. Fluke Jr. as
secretary. The steam engine was overhauled by a Philadelphia company
and the main office of the yard was relocated to
Work soon resumed at a brisk pace and in June
it was decided that the old Dutch kilns were to be
replaced by new “down draft” kilns. By August the plant
was in operation with at least one new kiln, though
there was now a labor shortage as America geared up for
World War I. Three men from West Point PA would soon
die in France.
To make the labor situation even worse, in
November a worker (William Quinn Jr.) fell while moving a wheel
barrow of bricks up a wooden plank. The plank suddenly tipped and he
severely injured his arm, hand and back. That same week Martin
Smith, a “brick burner” was found dead in his home at age 38. The
brickyard nevertheless remained busy and another Dutch kiln was
replaced in November. By December the weather was turning bad but
the yard was in operation full time.
In January of 1917 the plant
received 200 tons of coal and another 300,000 bricks were made, but
it was soon shut down because of the weather.
March of 1917 repairs and upgrades were made and it was back in
operation by April at full capacity. In May enough bricks were made
to fill three train cars. Large shipments of bricks were sent to
Bethlehem and Petty's Island (on the Delaware). By August the number of orders totaled
3,000,000 bricks. In November orders were filled totaling 105,000
bricks. However, in December there was a coal shortage and the plant
couldn’t fire its kilns.
In January of 1918 the
temperatures were as low as -10F. The only newsworthy event was that
an employee fell and broke his leg. At the end of the month the
plant closed for the winter. Later in 1918 some of the property
was sold to pay back taxes.
September of 1918, 155 people in West Point were subject
to military draft because of World War I. A month later
half the village was ill and under quarantine as the
Spanish Flu pandemic swept through. A mile away in North
Wales, undertakers were being taxed to their limits
burying the dead, sometimes with several family members
in the same grave. Was this a contributing factor in the
next crises to hit the brick yard??
In February of 1919 the
brickyard was bankrupt and in debt for $6,854.30 (presumably for the
mortgage). It was sold at Sheriff’s Sale on January 29, 1919 for
This brought Edward Vaughn to court. Mr.
Vaughn held one of two $6000 mortgages on the property and was the
first lien holder. At the time of the bankruptcy he was owed $3,784,
but after the taxes were paid on the brickyard there was only $3,500
awarded to Mr. Vaughn. He contended that he should have had
preference of payment before the state got their taxes and was owed
another $283.52. He won his case.
John J. Allen bought the brickyard at the Sheriff's Sale
in March, 1919. By April six men were working at the
site and repairs to the buildings were progressing favorably.
Advertisements were put
in the local papers for "machine men, setters, burners,
Edward Brey, who had lived in the farmhouse on the property since
1914 vacated it, and the superintendent, Mr. Dutter, moved his family
into it from Philadelphia. By September the plant was in full
operation and several carloads of bricks were shipped weekly via the
After being shut down for the winter, men
were hired in May of 1920 and the yard was back in full operation.
The plant was also in operation in 1921. But in May of 1921 the
personal property of John and Mary Allen at the brick
plant was sold at Sheriff's Sale .
In 1922, under new ownership, improvements
were made, machinery was overhauled and the plant again resumed full
operation that April. (It was always shut down during the
In October of 1923 a fire broke out on the
property which destroyed the drying room and $1,200 worth of
equipment and stock. (Equivalent to $16,000 today) The manufacture
of bricks appears to have ceased for a time, but by 1925 orders for
bricks were being filled as rapidly as possible and 1926
proved to be just as busy.