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Westfield brickyards and brickmaking history and mystery


October 31, 2012
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Recently, a local resident contacted the Westfield Historian's office asking if there are any records of brickyards in the early history of Westfield because he had found extensive evidence of such on his property out toward Forsythe. The only evidence that had been noted at the time of his request was on the 1867 Chautauqua County Atlas maps for Westfield and Barcelona, showing not just one, but two brickyards just east of the Barcelona Lighthouse.

Examination of 1854, 1867 and 1881 Chautauqua County maps and atlases were fruitless in locating any other labeled brickyards in any locations in the Town or Village of Westfield, including the Forsythe area. The Chautauqua County Historical Society Museum, files and local history experts at the McClurg Mansion knew of no specific records or maps, either. But John Paul Wolfe provided some informative historical background about bricks and brick making because of the current and past efforts to preserve and restore the McClurg Mansion itself, being the earliest known brick house or structure in Westfield, and in fact, the first brick house built between Erie and Buffalo.

A history of the McClurg house can be found in Part I (1802-1952) of "A History of Westfield - 1802-1997," Chapter XIX Historic Homes, pages 66-67, written by a former Westfield Historian Dorothy Hopkins Curtis. According to Curtis, James McClurg came to Westfield, "from Pittsburgh in 1809, purchased a large amount of land from David Eason ... and built a combination log house and store on the southwest corner of what is now the park ... returned to Pittsburgh during the War of 1812 ... came back to Westfield when it was over ... In 1817 he started to build for himself a palatial permanent home ... a large brick house ... so much grander than the log homes of his townsmen ... someone [wrote] a long, derisive poem entitled 'McClurg's Folly.' Undeterred, Mr. McClurg burned his lime, made and baked his bricks and cut and prepared timber and woods for the interior ... Skilled bricklayers, carpenters and mechanics were also brought from Pittsburgh."

Article Photos

Submitted photo
This portion of the 1867 Chautauqua County Atlas map of the Town of Westfield shows two brickyards just east of the Barcelona Light House on the cliff overlooking Lake Erie.

The interior is described in detail including the many fireplaces, massive brick arches and kitchen with an "open brick cooking range with a hearth five feet wide and thirteen feet long."

In addition to his mansion, McClurg erected a row of brick buildings on S. Portage St., from the northwest corner of Main and Portage, nearly to where the Patterson Library now stands, to protect his home from northwest winds. Part of this "McClurg Block" was destroyed by the 1884 Westfield house fire, and the remainder of the brick block was removed for the expansion of the Welch block in 1966.

In a discussion with John Paul Wolfe, efforts to preserve and restore the brick mansion are made exceedingly difficult for several reasons, including that the building was painted white in the 1950s and this prevents the brick from "breathing" and leads to its deterioration. Also, the early bricks for houses and buildings in Westfield were made on site from the clay soil deposits that are numerous on the lake plain in this area. According to Wolfe, as well as brick collectors like Frank Clement of Orchard Park, who gave a presentation on historic bricks and brick collecting at Hanover Town Hall on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, not all clays are equally suited to making hard bricks that will last over the centuries. Also, the temperature to which the bricks are baked determines their strength and durability.

Fact Box

The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union Street, in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m., or by appointment. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457, and the email mail address is

Now it can be explained why many of the earliest brick buildings have been torn down, which is because they were determined to be unrestorable being made of made-on-site soft brick. Included are: the Philip Lon Stephens House that stood on W. Main Rd., between Rogerville Rd., and the old Rogerville Schoolhouse - also brick - and the Forsythe Bridge until about five years ago; the Spencer House that housed the Westfield Memorial Hospital until 1998; the remaining McClurg block torn down in 1966; and probably even the Brewer block that stood where the telephone building now stands, torn down in 1970.

Besides the McClurg Mansion, other very old homes are experiencing structural deterioration, such as the Abram Dixon Mansion, more recently referred to as the Tennant House, which is brick and was built in 1830. And there are other historic Westfield homes of which many local residents are not even aware that are now being documented and will become the subjects of upcoming BeeLines stories.

A continuing search of early newspapers for advertisements or news clips about local brick making industries of the years has so far only located a short article in the Aug. 31, 1910, Westfield Republican. Headlined as "A New Industry," it describes The Gill Brick Machine Co. having acquired property on the corner of English and Franklin to construct a factory for the manufacture of cement brick. Unfortunately, this is not the type of brick made of clay.

Meanwhile, if any readers have documented or physical evidence of early brickyards and brick manufacturing enterprises in the Town or Village of Westfield, contact the Westfield Historian.



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