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The Kiln in the Garden: Damariscotta River Brick Making and the Traces of Maine's Agro-Industrial Past

Cleemann, Jorgen G.

This thesis explores the history of the brick-making industry along the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine and links that history to a vast industrial landscape that remains in evidence today. Although bricks had been made in this region since the time of the first European settlements, the scale of the industry did not achieve any significance until the second quarter of the nineteenth century. This corresponds precisely with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, a historical development that flooded eastern markets with cheap western foodstuffs and led to the increasing marginalization of struggling New England farmers. Unable to compete profitably with the rising agricultural behemoths in the west, these farmers diversified the sorts of incoming-generating activities that were practiced on farms. In the Damariscotta River region, this included the production of bricks for commercial sale. Although farmers in other parts of Maine and northern New England may have engaged in brick-making as a component of this same broad phenomenon, the practice has received very little scholarly attention to date. This intimate interrelationship with agriculture emerges in a close study of all aspects of the brickmaking industry. The technological means by which the bricks were made remained fairly technologically primitive throughout the nineteenth century, employing only a few simple "machines." The low-technology aspect of Damariscotta River brick making ensured that it was also low-cost, a quality that made it particularly attractive to the farmers who would periodically adopt the activity as necessary as a means to supplement their incomes. Brick making as a regional business expanded and contracted regularly over the course of the nineteenth century, responding to the vicissitudes in the market and other external factors. At its peak, the Damariscotta River brick-making industry produced bricks that were shipped to ports up and down the eastern seaboard and into the Caribbean, although Boston always remained the principal destination. Throughout this period, Damariscotta River brick makers almost always identified themselves as farmers or had some other close relationship—usually familial—to farming. The industry disappeared around the turn of the twentieth century due to a number of converging factors, including the decline of shipping, the rising costs of raw materials, the growing mistrust between the brick makers and the agents who negotiated the sales, and the incompatibility of local clays with the more mechanized forms of brick making that produced a higher quality product. The existence of the historical Damariscotta River brick-making industry is most evident today in the form of a large, nearly contiguous industrial landscape that comprises dozens of former brickyard sites along the river banks. Although overgrown and somewhat difficult to distinguish from the seemingly pristine natural surroundings, each of these sites exhibits a range of landscape features that marks it as a former brickyard. These include former clay quarries, roads, imprints left by the pug mills, drying yards, log- or stone-lined wharves, and, most spectacularly, beaches lined with countless cast-off bricks. Some sites are even located adjacent to extant crop fields and pastures, and thereby illustrate spatially the industry's close relationship with agriculture. Such sites present an excellent potential for future efforts in preservation and interpretation. By providing the history for the industry and identifying the sites where its story can be told most effectively, this thesis can lead to the preservation of the memory of brick making in the Damariscotta River region.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Dolkart, Andrew S.
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2012