Purington Brick History
The Purington Brick Co. in East Galesburg, IL, is the original source of our Purington Pavers and Old Tuscany Bricks, which were famed for more than 100 years as premium quality paving materials.
Once the largest producer of brick pavers in the world, Purington employed 800 workers to transform blue shale and yellow soil into more than 150,000 bricks per day.
The first brick was manufactured on the site in 1849. Henry Grosscup, a German stonemason, purchased 90 acres of land from Knox College trustees, paying for it with brick which was used to construct Whiting Hall and Old Main.
Brothers D. V. and W. S. Purington purchased the land around 1890. Their kilns produced the company’s signature 4″x4″x8″ paving brick until 1949. They began with Yard No. 1 containing 14 kilns, and later added Yard No. 2 with 22 kilns. Eventually the company had four yards covering the area.
Purington products could be seen around the world, from more than 60 miles of streets in their own hometown of Galesburg to the Bazaar in Bombay, India. Cities from Chicago, IL, to Deadwood, SD, ordered the bricks for their streets. At the turn of the century, the United States government selected Purington Pavers for the streets of Panama City, Panama, during construction of the Panama Canal. Knox County soldiers in World War II were surprised to see Purington Pavers in the streets of Paris.
The largest order ever filled came at the start of World War II when Dupont Co. needed 22,000,000 building bricks for a munitions plant in southern Indiana. Purington worked at full production capacity for 146 days to complete the order, filling seven or eight freight cars each day. The daily shipment traveled through night and arrived next morning at the building site, still warm from the kiln.
In those days, making bricks was a labor intensive process. The shale was scooped out of nearby pits, mixed, crushed, dampened and molded into raw, green colored bricks. The bricks then had to be set by hand onto large, movable platforms. Old-timers recall the physical labor involved as a green brick pitcher tossed the clay bricks, sometimes two or three in each hand, to the catcher above, who stacked them in the kiln. The catcher often used old leather shoe soles, cut individually for each hand, to help curb the blisters. Teen-age boys were hired as “sand monkeys”: workers who threw sand on the bricks so they wouldn’t stick together in the kiln. Many long-time employees started their careers that way.
The bricks were heated in coal-fired kilns to the point of vitrification, a chemical reaction that causes the brick to become extremely hard and durable, and also to shrink 1″ for every 8″ of size. Finally, the kilns had to be cooled and cleaned between each firing.
By 1948 paving bricks were no longer in demand due to the popularity of asphalt, so the company switched over to producing 2″x4″x8″ facing bricks for exterior walls. In 1952 the equipment was updated and “continuous” kilns were put in; these kilns dried and baked the bricks with gas instead of coal fires, making a cool-down period between firings unnecessary. Production went up and air pollution went down. The brickyard officially closed in 1974.
Gavin Historical Bricks has reclaimed a large quantity of Purington Pavers from streets throughout the Midwest. These paver bricks for sale are approximately 9″x4″x3.5″, weigh 9 lbs. each, and are in amazing shape. In addition, after extensive research and planning, Gavin Historical Bricks has brought the old brickyard back to life. We are now reclaiming brick from the interior kiln walls and staging areas of the Purington Brickyard. With their unique textures and vibrant colors ranging from orange to red to purple to black, they are unlike any brick on the market today!