Sunday, August 29, 2021

George B. Routt and his very durable bricks

Where in the world did all of those bricks come from? That's a question that could be asked while walking around the business districts of most older Iowa towns that still are populated by vintage buildings, including Chariton's. 

The answer is, "it depends" --- mostly on when a building was built. Prior to the 1890s or so, most of the bricks were manufactured locally. After that, most were brought in by rail as the "brick and tile" industry became more sophisticated.

In Chariton, George B. Routt (1827-1906) was the most prolific brickmaker, working from brickyards located in the river bottom southwest of town where the right mix of clay, sand, water and wood (for firing) was readily available.

Newspaper reports tell us that he made and laid (or supervised the laying of) the bricks of the Manning & Penick block on the west side of the square during 1869.

During 1879, he still was making brick, as evidenced by this brief report in The Chariton Patriot of August 13:

"G. B. Routt, of this city, has done a very large business in brickmaking this year. He has made already a million bricks, and expects to make many more before the season's over. His brick are all first class, specimens may be seen in Dr. W.H. Gibson's handsome new building on the North East corner. The brick masonry is also under the supervision of Mr. Routt, and is a fine specimen of brick laying."

Both of these buildings still stand and both have been given facelifts in recent years as part of a facade improvement project in the Courthouse Square Historic District. 

Dr. Gibbon's building was about ready for its roof when the 1879 report was published and he moved his drug store into the completed building (top) during December of that year.

George's bricks still are doing their duty, although the Gibbon building's elaborate cast metal cornicing has vanished and it has been merged with the storefront just to the south to form what used to be Klaassen Health Mart, now Iowa Realty.

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