A lady who had read the piece on Hancock County bricks for Fort Pike wrote me a note indicating that her land also may have been a brickyard. For the moment, this lady and her location will not be identified. She may herself write a report that may be published later.
Meanwhile, she has graciously given a tour of her and her family’s holdings, and I must say that it was a very fine adventure to see that there are indeed piles and piles of unused brick. I was accompanied by Charles Gray, director of the historic society, and Marco Giardino, archaeologist at NASA. All of us were impressed and excited at the beauty of the extensive home sites and the revelation of yet again another unveiling of our rich history.
What we saw were a number of rustic but lovely cottages separated by landscapes that simply adopt nature’s own offerings. There are gardens and well-kept lawns, but also stands of pine and stretches of marsh.
There are also bricks. Some are whole, some broken. Piles of them, some incorporated into the gardens. Our hostess said that over the years they had believed that bricks were made here but were not of good quality and therefore the venture had been discontinued. That is possible, as there was such a report in Maxon’s book, The Progress of the Races. However, I think Maxon referred to such a failure as having occurred at a different location.
Nonetheless, I examined a few of the bricks, and some did seem a little powdery, as might be seen in old Vieux Carre bricks. But still, it must be considered that these bricks have been sitting in the elements for many years, and even old New Orleans bricks that can be scraped with a fingernail continue to support 200-year old buildings.
In one area along the banks of Pearl River, there is a clearing, with bricks on both sides as well as underneath. There are also stones, which may have been ballast. Together, these suggest that it may have been the site of the loading of barges to carry away the good bricks.
Our hostess also took us to a pond which she identifies as having been the source of the clay with which the bricks were made. I offered a guess that they probably had been sun-dried, and at this suggestion she said that the area had once been much more open than it is presently, thus allowing for sunlight. She added, “The bricks probably would have initially been sun-dried, but we believe there was also a kiln.” Later, her brother, part owner of the complex, gave more particulars: “I recall being told that there were three kilns between the current house and the river – one to the left on the walkway, one to the right of the walkway which is now a patio, and one to the right of the drive where it goes to the river.”
The tour included yet another delightful surprise, that being a large flooring, about which there is word-of-mouth evidence that the floor once was the site of the brickyard’s company store. This sets the imagination to work, and I could not help thinking as I stood there about the many workers who might line up to buy essentials after a hard day’s work, some signing chits in favor of the company, obligations to be deducted from their wages on next payday.
Our hostess qualified what had been passed down: “We don’t know that the slab was from the brick factory store or from of the other commercial endeavors that may have taken place on the property….It sits on top of an earlier brick foundation.”
Of course, Mississippi was “dry” in years gone by, meaning that a company store would not have been able to legally sell alcohol. Thirsty workers can be imagined to take their pay and cross the Pearl in skiffs to the Louisiana side, where there were bars on floating barges.
The thought of workers being so numerous as to require a company store reminds me of what I found in the 1820 census of Hancock County, as reported in my previous piece on the bricks and Fort Pike. What I learned was that the contractors Bennett and Morte, who were to build the fort, had over one hundred persons showing at their census listing. They included 84 “free white persons” and 37 “foreigners not naturalized.” Such numbers at one location leads one to think in terms of a temporary enterprise, and would certainly explain the need for a company store.
Further research, especially in the subject of deeds, might show whether Bennett and Morte ever took title to land on the Pearl.
On balance, it is believed by this writer that there must have been a successful operation here, and that besides the piles of wasted bricks there must have been many more that were barged somewhere down the river. Whether Fort Pike was the destination remains to be seen.