The Thurber Brick Plant
By Frank Chamberlain
In addition to the famous coal industry in Thurber, the town was also home to one of the premier brick-making companies in the nation. In 1897, it was discovered that the bountiful shale deposits found on company land was ideally suited for the production of high quality bricks. Soon, this industry proved to be every bit as profitable as the coal mining business. The Thurber brick plant was able to produce around 80,000 bricks a day in thirty-five different varieties [Bielinski 150].
The brick plant was opened in an effort to fully utilize all of the natural resources of the Thurber area and to utilize all of the coal extracted from the mines. In the process of mining, a substantial amount of tiny “nut and pea” coal was removed. These types of coal did not burn as easily as the “lump” coal that was used as locomotive fuel at the time. Therefore, this by-product was not commercially viable and large amounts of were wasted. Col. Robert Hunter, President of Texas and Pacific Coal Company, began to explore possibilities about how to utilize this material [Bielinski 150, Hardman 78-79].
Hunter solved this problem when he noticed that the soil around Thurber contained large amounts of shale that could possibly be used to create bricks. He sent a sample of this soil to the Leclede Fire Clay Company in St. Louis and ascertained that the shale was ideally suited for brick manufacturing. This provided a usage for the previously useless “nut and pea” coal, which could now be burned and used to bake the bricks inside of furnaces called “kilns.” The ability to produce bricks in Thurber solved another problem for the company as well. Previously, the T&P Company had to import bricks from St. Louis whenever construction was needed within the town. The formation of the Green and Hunter Brick Company allowed the town to become self-sufficient in this regard as well as a primary exporter of this product. (Cofounder James Green was the owner of the Leclede Company in St. Louis and Hunter’s close friend.) The company was originally a private enterprise, but became a subsidy of the T&P Coal Company within a few years [Bielinski 150-151, Hardman 78-80].
The brick plant was located a half-mile southeast of downtown Thurber. It covered five acres of land immediately east of New York Hill. Originally, the shale used in the manufacturing was taken from the hill adjacent to the brickyard. In 1903, higher quality shale was found on “Steam Pit Mountain” a mile north of the factory. (The miners referred to this hill as “Steam Shovel Mountain” because of the huge steam shovel that loaded the shale.