The following is a list of six articles written by Donna Glessner and published in the Laurel Messenger.
1.) Volume XXVII Number 1 November, 1986
2.) Volume XXVIII Number 2 May, 1987 - Log Structures
3.) Volume XXVIII Number 4 November, 1987 - Stone Houses & Barns
4.) VolumeXXIV Number 1 February, 1988 - Stone Houses & Barns (continued)
5.) Volume XXIV Number 3 August, 1988
6.) Volume XXX Number 1 February 1989 - below
The history of the brick house in Somerset County is nearly as old as the county itself. At the time of the federal direct tax assessment in 1798 there was but one brick house in the country: a combination brick and frame structure owned by Alexander Ogle in Somerset Township. (Somerset Borough had not yet been incorporated.) The Ogle house was exceptionally large and and grand for its day, measuring 25' x 52' and having 25 windows and two stories.
We know that in 1802 the County erected two brick office buildings adjacent to the stone courthouse. Just how soon other brick houses were erected here is a matter of speculation, but certainly by the 1830's, brick was the construction material of choice for many farmers, tradesmen, and tavern keepers. An inventory of historic brick houses remaining in Somerset County shows at least thirty-seven structures which appear to have been built before 1850. Today these homes offer clues to the local and family historian interested in identifying early trade routes and public houses, and in understanding the economy and society of a by-gone era. (Note: the survey code numbers used in this article refer to the Historic Resource Survey Reports available for study at the Historical Center and the Somerset County Library. The reports contain photographs, architectural, and historical material concerning 653 Somerset County buildings of significance.
Many of our earliest brick houses are associated with the busy turnpikes which crossed our county. On "the great road from Bedford to Pittsburgh", later known as the Pennsylvania Road and then the Lincoln Highway, we find John Dennison's public houses in Jennerstown said to have been built in 1806 (JB-033), and several brick townhouses in Stoystown dating from at least the 1830's (SY-101-045,008).
The rival turnpike of this era, the Glades Pike (later Route 3l) had its share of brick houses as well, including the well-known Lavan House in Somerset Township, dating from 1824 (ST-632), the present Glades Pike Inn, just west of Lavansville, built around 1842- (JT-203), and the present Dressler Center for the Arts in Somerset, a portion of which was built in 1832 (SM-216). At the southern end of the county, the great National Road, later Route 40, was well known for its elegant brick houses. Several of these remain in Addison Borough and surrounding Addision Township (AT-117, At-265, AD-036).
Agricultural areas surrounding these transportation routes seemed to prosper during the turnpike era, as we find numerous early brick houses here, often taking the place of the log house built by the farm's original settlers. In this category we find two brick houses associated with the pioneer Case beer family in Lincoln Township (LN-159 and LN-162) dating from c. 1820 and c. 1840, a one-and-one-half story brick house probably built for the Friedline family of Jenner Township in 1819-(JN-1126), the Matthew Hair farmhouse also in Jenner Township dated 1817, the three Kooser brick houses in Milford Township build between 1829 and 1837 (ML-239, 256, and 264), and several outstanding brick farmhouses in the Turkeyfoot region (UT-345, LT-134).
Meanwhile, in Berlin and Somerset, the county's two principal settlements of this period, the brick house was becoming the mark of a successful businessman. In Berlin we can study the Heffley House (BR0-220), the Stoner House (BR-292), and the Brubaker House (BR-315), all dating from this pre-1850 period. Many of Somerset's early brick homes were lost in the 1872 fire.
Common features of nearly all of the county's earliest brick homes include a two-story, rectangular plan, often with a centered entrance and symmetrically placed window openings. The door may have a simple surrounding of sidelights and a transom, but often is without these details. The windows, likewise, are without ornamentation, having only a plain, flat lintel and sill of wood. Occasionally, bricks are laid in a segmental arch over the windows and doors. End chimneys, both interior and exterior, are common. Fireplaces are found throughout the house.
If the home has any decorative elements, it is at the cornice where the bricks often are set out at an angle for two or three courses in a corbeled effect which simulated the den tiled wood cornice popular in high-style buildings. In overall appearance, the homes show influence of the Federal architectural style then popular in the East.
Most owners of a historic brick house can point to the location on their property where the bricks were made for their dwelling. The raw materials need for making bricks, that is, clay, sand, and water, were available nearly everywhere, so the bricks were nearly always formed and fired at the construction site.
Local potters were the source for smaller quantities of brick, such as were needed for building chimneys. The copybook of Jacob Baker, a prominent farmer and distiller, records the purchase of 230 bricks from potter Andrew Hirsh of Somerset Township in 1802. Hirsh received 60 cents per hundred for the bricks. Later in the same copybook we find that Baker paid $8 and 1/2 dollars to Daniel Keyser for making his "Chimly".
We know from historic letters and journals that making bricks for an entire house was an undertaking long remembered by the participants. In a letter dated 1927, eighty-year old Herman Friedline recalled the experience this way: "Hauling brick is work I tried when I was a boy when Father built his new house on the farm. He made bricks on the farm. I was eleven years past-had severe backaches, handling bricks before they were in wall of house. Making and hauling brick is hard work." The house built in 1858, was the Jefferson Township home of John Peter Friedline (JT-086) approximately 1 1/2 miles northeast of Bakersville.
While even an eleven year old boy was useful in hauling the brick, it took an experienced potter, mason, or brick maker to mix the clay, sand, and water in the correct proportions and to construct the kiln for firing. The west clay mixture was placed in wooden molds by hand, scraped smooth then taken from the molds and set out to dry in the sun. After drying, the bricks were stacked for burning. This temporary kiln, known as a "clamp" consisted of several walls of raws bricks built parallel to each other, each about three bricks in thickness. At a height of about two feet the walls were joined by corbeling courses into one large stack with small air spaces between the bricks. The stack could be built up to a height of eight to ten feet.
A fire of coal of wood was stared in the bottom of the clamp, with tunnels near the bottom serving as fireplaces. After the fires were started, the ends of the tunnels were blocked off. If correctly built, the temperature in the clamp reached 1800 degree mark needed to harden the bricks. The fires were built up gradually, then the heat maintained for several days. When the fires stopped burning, the clamp was allowed to cool for several days before disassembling.
When the clamp was dismantled the bricks were sorted so that the hardest bricks could be used for the outer wall. The bricks varied widely in color and quality due to impurities in the clay and sand and the brick's location in the clamp. The ends of the bricks which were closest to the fire were a darker color than the other faces and could be used for accents in the finished wall. In the course of the Historic Resource Survey, we noted several instances in which the brightest most attractive bricks were reserved for the front of the house, or for the area surrounding the main entrance.
Because bricks are small and relatively light in weight, they must be made to overlap or bond with each other to make a strong wall. In Somerset County's historic bricks houses, the inner and outer brick walls are most often bonded together in a pattern known as the American Common Bond., in which there are six or seven rows of stretchers (long faces of bricks) to one row of headers (brick ends). The Flemish Bond, in which headers and stretchers alternate in each course, is also found here. Occasionally, the front of the house is laid in a Flemish Bond, while the side and rear walls show the less-decorative, more-economical Common Bond. The mortar used in these historic buildings was a mixture of lime and sand.
The construction of brick houses Somerset County seems to have reached its peak of popularity after 1850. Between 1850 and 1880 we find and townhouses erected in nearly every township and borough, and indication of the prosperity enjoyed by many during this period. A particular design, featuring first and second story porches, a center hall plan, and a banked foundation, seems to have been a favorite with the county's most successful farmers. The recent Historic Resource Survey identified nineteen houses of this type, remarkably similar in construction details. The homes are characterized by their full-length porches on both the first and second floors, often on both sides of the house. The porches, trimmed with a fanciful variety of railings, are an integral part of the home's design, as shown in the accompanying photograph. Other features of this popular design include a center-hall, five-ranked plan, entrances on both first and second floors surround with sidelights and transom, and a banked foundation creating a exposed basement level. The basement often was used as the kitchen or a separate living area for another general of the family.
Bricks were also popular during this period for the construction of public buildings and churches, including the second Somerset county Court House, completed in 1852, and the second County Jail built in 1856 (SM-673). The German Lutheran & Reformed Church in Wellersburg, built in 1856, (WL-049) is a good surviving example of the type of simple brick structures built by dozens of congregations throughout the country in the mid-nineteenth century. With few exceptions, these churches have been replaced with larger, brick-cased buildings Gothic-style frame structures.
Following the Civil war, the brick homes built in Somerset county begin to show influence of the then-popular Italian ate architectural style in tall, narrow windows with elaborate hoods, hipped roofs, double-leaved entrance, cornice brackets (often paired) and porches with grouped columns. This building type was most popular in towns, including Meyersdale, Salisbury, Somerset, and Berlin, but good examples of the Italianate brick farmhouse are also found here, particularly the Freeman and Harrison Mason house in Milford Township built around 1877 (ML-081) and the Elk Lick Township home of David Hay built in 1871 (EL-073).
The era of the solid brick house in Somerset County seems to end around 1890 with the advent of brick-casing techniques. Instead of using a double or triple brick wall to bear the weight of the structure, the home was framed with wood and covered with a skin of bricks. The Queen Anne style homes we see with their towers and bay projections, fit in this category. Bricks for these homes came from large, commercial brick yards and were shipped here by rail. The craft of forming and firing bricks became another of our lost arts.