Behind the Scenes of TOH TV with Kevin O'Connor
TOH Host, Kevin O'Connor finds true-to-time brick for a home built in 1895
Published July 15, 2015
We were working on our latest TOH TV project, bringing back the Victorian charm to a home in Belmont, Massachusetts, built in 1895. One of the projects the homeowners requested was to re-install the old wrap-around porch that used to be part of the house.
We wanted it to look authentic with true-to-time brick piers on the porch. The only exposed brick left on the house was from the chimney, and we wanted to match it as closely as possible. Our mason, Mark McCullough, knew right away we needed some “city hall pavers” as he called them. That term was a first for me and when pressed Mark told me it was the working name for a brick made locally for hundreds of years by the same company Stiles and Hart and is used at most of the historic government building in Boston. I needed to know more.
The Stiles and Hart Brick Company was established in 1886 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Since then, it has gone through four generations of hands and is now run by Lincoln Andrews, whose great-grandfather bought the company in the 1940s. Stiles and Hart bricks are found across Boston in both public and residential areas—and all carry the company's distinct "S+H" marking as an identifier.
We decided to call up the company, which is still in business, to learn more about the brick.
When it comes to keeping a brick authentic, these are the guys to talk to. Fourth-generation-brick-maker Andrews says that Stiles and Hart is able to work on projects done in the 1600s and the new bricks will match with the original ones.
"Our bricks are absolutely historically correct," Andrews says. "We use the same local clay, the same techniques and the same types of kilns. That's what adds to the authenticity of the brick."
In fact, the techniques of making and laying these bricks have barely changed in the last 400 years and according to Andrews, these brick are made in a five-step process:
1. Mining (extracting clay from the ground)
2. Pugging (or preparing)
New England has particularly moist clay reserves, giving Stiles and Hart a distinct advantage in brick manufacturing. "Most clay comes out of the ground dry like dirt, but in New England it comes out with 22 percent moisture in the clay," Andrews says. In the industry, this is called "soft mud," and it's much easier to mold than ordinary clay.
Molded brick is the process that makes bricks like snowflakes, with unique shapes and sizes. Molded bricks are made individually and will shrink and bend during the firing process.
Many modern brick makers create extruded bricks, which are cookie-cutter bricks that look exactly the same and take away from the authentic look of a traditional brick wall—not something we would want for our period-style Victorian renovation.
"They might be a little out of square, or have a small chip in it…but you're adding to the aesthetic of the wall," Andrews says. "These are the things that make it an authentic colonial product."
The authentic kilns that Stiles and Hart uses to fire its bricks is what gives these pavers that great red color that carries all the way through the brick rather than just sitting on the surface. New England clay is known for its iron oxide content, which also contributes to the color. That through-body hue means that even in the harsh New England weather, the color won't fade.
"That's why we can color match with projects done hundreds of years ago," Andrews says. "They may get dirt on them, but once you clean it off that color will still be there."
If you want to use period-appropriate bricks like these for your project, contact Stiles and Hart, or reach out to your local masonry.