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County History

Clay Brings Bricks, Baked Beans

Transcribed by Crist Middaugh

Wellsville Daily Reporter, 8/13/1992

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Genesee Reflections

Bill Greene

Clay brings bricks, baked beans

Over the years I have seen a lot of different kind of prehistoric pottery. I have also read a lot of books on local archaeology.

One thing conspicuous by its absence is any reference to pottery-making sites. With the supply of material, I think that there should have been some local workshops. Reasons leads one to think that the larger pats would be too heavy, and too fragile to have been carried too far in trade.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many of the samples contain ground up shells. Some of the lakes of the time may have contained some shellfish life otherwise the shells would have to have been brought in. This is possible because wampum was brought in from the Long Island area.

The clues to look for would be an unusually large amount of fragments in or near it, or possibly a hoard of ground up shells.

Jumping to more modern times, we can pick up accounts in the history books and other records. We know that Moses Van Campen built his house of bricks made from clay dug in the back yard. The work was probably done by slave labor. This was in 1808.

Philip Church probably did the same at Belvidere in 1810. It is also recorded that a kiln was set up in the park when the courthouse was built in 1818.

At some point, a regular brick yard was established. From the 1855 census we learn that there was such an establishment in Belfast. John Gleason was listed as a brick maker. On the page listing the industries, we come upon an entry for Charles Gleason’s brick works.

He used 100 cords of wood to make 240,000 bricks. He was employing five men and two boys under 18. The average wage was $15 per month.

By this time, brick houses were being built all over the county. Any surplus could now be exported on the canal.

I was unable to find the location of the works on the 1855 map, but I will hazard a guess that it was somewhere in the Crawford Creek area.

Enough clay to make a quarter million bricks would leave a hole big enough to fill a house, so there ought to be some trace of the operation.

At first attempt I am having some difficulty sorting out the Gleason family. It appears that there were at least three Johns. Our subject was John D., aged 25 at the time. His wife was Sophia, and they had an infant son Eugene. He was born in the county.

Because they lived so close together, I will take a guess that he was the son of Charles, age 55. Charles was born in Vermont and came to this county about 1819. The family was of Welch descent.

Because of the duplication of names, it would be difficult to pin down the property location in the deed records. Minard’s history merely says that John was a “businessman” and that one of the Charles was overseer of the poor in Caneadea in 1895.

While I was at the museum researching the above story, Frank O’Brian told me of a family operation somewhere on Coil Hill. It seems that there was a tree stump some ten feet in diameter that, being hollow, had been lined with clay and used for a kiln.

Whenever the owner was going to fire up a bunch of pottery, the word was sent out through the neighborhood. Everybody would arrive with a pot of beans to be baked.

Such a firing would probably take two or three days of constant attention. Doing the beans would help to pass the time, they were properly done too.

Come to think of it, that sounds like a fun thing to do at the fair. Since it would be educational as well as entertaining, there would probably be some grant money to get it off the ground. After that, it might be self-supporting with the sale of pottery and fresh beans.

Greene of Belmont is the former Allegany County Historian.

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