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Roanoke College Builders

Pug Mill




Bricks were made of clay mixed with sand or ashes. The brickfield however was first covered with either of these to the depth of an inch or two and is well dug in and turned about during several weeks. When the bricks are to be made, the mixture is put into a pug mill, which is a large tub having an upright iron bar passing up from the bottom, and having several broad iron blades fixed to its sides at the part, which is in the tub; at the top there is a cross-bar of wood, to which a horse is harnessed; the horse, when driven round in a circle, turns the upright iron bar and consequently the iron blades. Bricks over time have lately been made with perforations through them, which is done by having a mold with a number of iron rods projecting from its bottom; so that when the clay is formed on them they pass right through it and leave holes. The objects gained by this are to; in the first place the bricks are much lighter and a great advantage in building, and in the second place they do not get so much out of form in burning, as there is no great substance between the holes, and therefore the shrinking takes place more evenly. Most of the bricks are of a light straw color, and are used for facing. They are mixed with a quality of chalk, which is worked up with the clay, and they are not baked at such as heat as would burn it into lime. 


Drying the brick

During the process of laying the bricks 

Brick clamp (kiln)


Clamps during this time were known to be very inefficient and consumed tremendous quantities of wood, as evidenced by the essential 137 cords consumed by Thomas Jefferson's workers in burning 188,000 bricks at Poplar Forest in Bedford County. By the mid-1850s, J.C Deyerle's methods were grossly more efficient than Jeffersons 50 years earlier, yet the 201 cords of wood Deyerle burned in making bricks for Spring Dale is equivalent to 308,736 board-feet of lumber which is enough in today's society to build several large modern houses today. This however effectively illustrates the level of wealth that was once necessary to build a large brick house, and also the extent to which a brick house must have been marked the high status of its owner.  There is no indication or record of what species of wood the Deyerles used or what other brickmakers preferred, but certainly, it was hardwood for higher burning temperatures. Hardwoods were more favored for building and other practical purposes, such as oak and chestnut, which may have been considered too valuable to be consumed as fuel. The choice of wood that was generally not deemed suitable use was Hickory because it was heavy, difficult to work with, and was prone to decay. 



Laying the brick

During the 19th century in Southwest Virginia, as elsewhere flemish bond principal facades were standard until the late 1840's when a few bricklayers began to adopt a variant, sometimes referred to as Flemish stretcher bond, consisting of one Flemish course to every three, four, or five stretcher courses. Most of the bricklayers in Roanoke County as well as surrounding counties continued to use Flemish bond on houses and institutional building in the 1850s. However, this began to change by the late 1840s when a few bricklayers began to follow the nationwide trend of employing stretcher bond on the primary facades of institutional buildings and more upscale houses in pursuit of an ever more uniform appearance. Stretcher bond also became the Deyerle brothers preference for front elevations. While they also used common bond on the least visible