19th Century Brick Manufacturer Andrew Stoutner

Sepia Saturday 559. Eleventh in a series on my maternal German ancestors, the Stoutners, of Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

Andrew Stoutner (1832-1910). Scan by Molly Charboneau

While my great-great grandmother Christina (Albeitz) Stoutner tended to the domestic side of the household, my great-great grandfather Andrew was earning a living as a brick manufacturer on the outskirts of Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

Although he appears to have worked as a laborer when he arrived in the U.S. in 1855, within five years Andrew had established brick making as his primary career — only turning to farming and commerce in his senior years as his working life wound down.

Andrew Stoutner’s Occupation in US and NYS Censuses of Johnstown-Gloversvillle, Fulton Co., N.Y. —  Source: FamiliySearch
Census Name Age/Details Occupation
1855 NYS census Andrew Stoutner 22; In town 2 months on 30 June 1855 Laborer
1860 US census Andrew Stoutner 26 Mechanic – Brick Maker
1865 NYS and 1870 US censuses Andrew Stoutner 36/38 Brick Maker
1875 NYS and 1880 & 1900 US censuses Andrew Stoutner 42/47/67 Brick Manufacturer
1905 NYS census Andrew Stoutner 72 Farmer
1910 US census Andrew Stoutner 77 Commerce

Brick making in the 1800s

Brick making has a long history in the U.S., but really took off in the 1800s as a reliable, fireproof medium for building and home construction. An article titled “Brickmaking and Brickmakers” in the Encyclopedia of Philadelphia describes nineteenth century brick making:

“Brickmaking was a poor man’s game, as it required no capital to start with,” noted New York brickmaker James Wood  in 1830. This was especially true early on, when firing bricks required only enough bricks to build a kiln and, most importantly, an abundance of clay.

The process of making bricks changed little from its origins through the mid-nineteenth century. Brickmakers dug the clay, allowed it to weather, tempered it, molded it, let it dry, then burned the bricks in a kiln….They then sorted the bricks by firmness and color.

Nineteenth century brick making practices

A brick from Andrew Stoutner’s brick works in Gloversville, N.Y. (c. 1870-1900). My mom got a set of these Stoutner bricks from her cousin Stephanie — and now my siblings and I each have one. Mine, shown above, resides in special display case on a bookshelf. Photo: Molly Charboneau

So my ancestor Andrew could have begun his brick manufacturing career as a modest enterprise, then expanded as business picked up — a common practice in the brick industry. Also, according to the article:

Brickmaking was frequently a family business, spanning generations. Mechanics who worked in the trade became brickyard owners, often in partnership with family members.

In fact, Andrew worked as a Mechanic in 1860, and by 1865 was a Brick Maker — and he later brought his oldest son William into the business once he was of age. So my great-great grandfather appears to have followed the standard practice of the time.

The building of Gloversville, N.Y.

Fortunately for Andrew, he arrived in the Gloversville, N.Y., area just as the need for bricks was ramping up. In the 1850s, with its proximity to hemlock forests, the Mohawk Valley town was a center for tanning and leather production — and there were already scores of glove making shops.

https://goo.gl/maps/HZ4tvuVbtkuXSCqj8
Contemporary photo of the once-bustling Four Corners intersection of E. Fulton and Main Street, Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. No doubt some  of the bricks used to construct these buildings came from the Stoutner Brick Works. Photo: Google Maps

As the 1800s progressed, the glove industry grew and the bulk of those shops were brick structures — as were the stores, workshops and hotels near the bustling Four Corners intersection of E. Fulton and Main streets. No doubt some of the brick for those structures came from the Stoutner Brick Works.

No place like home

And there is perhaps no greater tribute to my great-great grandfather’s skill as a brick manufacturer than the family home Andrew built circa 1882 at 4 Wells Street, Gloversville, N.Y.

Contemporary photo of 4 Wells St. The bricks have been painted green, the original front porch has been removed, and a second story was added to the side room. But the basic brick structure erected by my German great-great grandfather Andrew Stoutner has stood the test of time. Photo: Zillow

The bricks have been painted green, the original front porch has been removed, and a second story was added to the side room. But the basic brick structure erected by my German immigrant great-great grandfather Andrew Stoutner has stood the test of time — and is still going strong 131 years later!

More on the Stoutners and other ancestors in March. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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13 thoughts on “19th Century Brick Manufacturer Andrew Stoutner”

  1. I think brickmaking was a traditional craft trade in parts of Germany where clay was plentiful. The art of masonry was different in many regions in Europe, and immigrants introduced new styles of construction that changed American buildings. Here in Asheville, Italian masonry and tile artisans were hired to work on George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate and many stayed to influence the city’s urban architecture.

    Bricks have more used than buildings. In my neighborhood we have a lot of original brick paved sidewalks, and even a few streets. And industries of all kinds used it for foundations, flooring, furnaces, towers, etc. If Andrew’s business was successful he was likely supplying a variety of contractors who worked in the region.

  2. How “funny” to be reading about brickmaking today when just yesterday I was in a Zoom meeting in which the program was about the construction of a house to replicate the one that George Washington lived in as a child. In an effort to be as authentic as possible, they created the mortar in the same way it was made in the 1700s by burning wood and oyster shells.

    1. Brickmaking appears to be a timeless enterprise — as long as there is clay and a kiln for firing. I only wish my ancestor had molded his bricks with his initials on them.

  3. Fascinating post. I am always in awe of the time you put into such detailed research. Thanks for sharing that information about brick making – very interesting.

  4. What a wonderful heirloom to have! It tells a story, stands the test of time, and is a size that is easily portable yet not easily misplaced.

  5. That very attractive Stoutner brick is special and it’s neat you have a special place for it. Many years ago, my Mom & Dad were planning to build a cabin at our favorite lake. We laid the foundation, but that’s as far as it got before the state put a moratorium on any more building around the lake. The state purchased the lot and the foundation was eventually demolished but not before my brother and sisters and I each took a piece of the foundation to remember all the work we had put in that long-ago summer building it. It’s just a chunk of cement, but it sits just outside my back door by a lovely flowering bush.

    1. You were smart to keep a bit of that cement. What is it about objects that come from a special place or person? Perhaps it’s the retained memory that returns whenever we look at it.

  6. I am happy to hear about your gg grandfather’s brick business, and to see some of the buildings he provided bricks for. It’s really great that you have a brick he made too! Nice connection to your ancestor.

  7. I love this post Molly…it makes one curious about the art of brick-making! I remember one electrician who wrote for the Hard Hat News and was from somewhere north of NYC, used to tell me that there were whole towns around him that specialized in making bricks.

    The glove industry–makes me think of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral…which Dubofsky said was the best description of an industry/ a process — whether in fiction or in academic sources.

    Very inspiring…keep going!

    1. When I was researching this post, I found a website devoted to Hudson River brick making. Maybe that’s what the electrician was referring to. My ancestor’s bricks weren’t as fancy as those from the Hudson Valley, but they clearly did the job since so many of those Gloversville, N.Y., brick buildings are still around.

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