The main industry of Uniontown, from 1887 through 1941, other than the agriculture and grain warehouses, was the Herboth brickyard. Over the years, the yard employed crews of laborers, both skilled and unskilled, in the manufacture of brick and tile.
On Nov. 25, 1887, George Herboth and Frank Rikelman, both newly-arrived settlers from Illinois, purchased a tract of land containing about 2 1/3 acres for $175. Today, the land is used as pasture by Thomas Faerber and is located at the west end of Spring Street. This parcel of land was purchased from Joseph Greif who had acquired this land from the original homestead of Thomas Montgomery in 1883. Greif was now selling tracts and lots from his inventory as a town real estate dealer even though the town at the time was not incorporated.
George Herboth had arrived in Moscow in the spring of 1887 and was looking the country over for land for a business. With the railroad planning an extension into Colton and Uniontown, he realized that a brick and tile yard during a building boom might be a sound investment.
He evidently learned the career of brick and tile manufacturing in Teutopolis, Ill., as a young man. Such a plant was near his family home in his youth and did employ and teach young men the trade. The Rickelman family was also from Teutopolis. Even though the latter was classed as a butcher in later records, he too may have had some experience in brickmaking. At any rate, a second profession was almost a necessity in early frontier days — just in case one or more of one’s tries at lucrative employment failed.
Even though winter had set in, these two business partners immediately set to the task of building a brickyard. They had it set up and ready to go at the first sign that winter was over, and brick could be cured without freezing, and the ground was sufficiently thawed to allow its use as the raw material for the bricks.
The clay available on the land purchased was exactly suited to the manufacture of brick and tile and was mined from a hillside on the southside of the property. On Feb. 2, 1888, a notice appeared in the Colton Eagle that Peter Hof was contemplating the building of “the first brick building in Uniontown,” and that when completed, “it would be the warmest bulding in town.” On May 4, 1888, Herboth bought out Rikelman for $200. On May 25, 1888, Mr. Herman, the editor of the Washington Journal, the first Uniontown paper, recorded the molding of the first 20,000 bricks, which would “be ready soon.’’
The brickyard’s operation quickly expanded after the railroad arrived, and a building boom was experienced by the whole area. There was a great demand for brick and tile: brick for buildings; and tile for sewers and water systems. The town incorporated in 1889, and in its records the town noted that tin flues for chimneys were outlawed, to be replaced by brick. Also in 1889, William Terry built his Palace Saloon. Today, this same building is the home of the Uniontown Community Club, but the brick has been hidden by a coat of plaster. On Aug. 6, 1890, Smith Hilliard, a financier newly-arrived from Vermont, commenced building the First Bank, which was to house his investment firm, as well as the bank. This building was long the home of Eleanor’s Comer Saloon.
The brick and tile trade increased to the point that Herboth had a photograph taken in 1893 to show off the yard. There was, however, a period of low activity for the brick business for several years after the panic of 1893. George Herboth had turned to the drayage and threshing businesses to supplement his income. By 1898, business had taken a turn for the better and he acquired more land for his yard. Today, one can see that literally thousands of square yards of dirt were removed in the 54 years of its operation. A whole hillside at the southwest comer of Spring and High streets, extending into farmland to the west, had been used up. All of the brick buildings and houses in Uniontown and the surrounding countryside were built from brick manufactured at the local yard. There is one exception, the home on the northeast corner of Church and St. Boniface streets was built from brick molded in Genesee. Its builder had a friend who operated a brickyard in that town and so ordered his brick from there.
The brickyard was a major supplier of brick and tile for building material firms in Lewiston. One such firm, the Hahn Plumbing and Supply Company, often contracted for almost the total tile output of the yard. The drayage firms to haul brick were also big business as a result of this reliable source of revenue. Not only were they kept busy in late summer and fall hauling brick, but during the summer they drayed load after load of wood to fire the kilns during the height of the burning operations.
The brickyard was a major employer of men and high-school-age youth in the town during the summer months. The operation was heralded in the Uniontown Journal of April 28, 1927: “George Herboth’s brick manufacturing has a force of men busy preparing and rebuilding sheds in his brick making plant preparatory to starting the season’s run.” The news article went on to say, “Mr. Herboth manufactures a fine grade of brick and there is a big demand for his product, especially at Lewiston where many new buildings are in the course of construction. The supply of brick, which was made last season has all been disposed of to Lewiston contractors, and Wm. Dahmen has been making good use of his new truck in transporting it to the valley city. Mr. Herboth states there is a scarcity of wood to be used in firing the kilns, which is a considerable drawback in keeping up his production.”
In the late 1930s, production records indicate brick was no longer made and that tile was the only source of revenue. Mr. Herboth’s health had failed and operations were supervised, it has been said, by Jack Robbins.
In 1940 and 1941, a skeleton crew was working in the tile portion of the yard. War clouds were gathering and some of the young men were interested in the romantic construction jobs in far off places, as well as joining the war effort. When the military draft was instituted, it was doubtful, even had the brickyard been able to continue, that manpower would have been available to fill its needs. The final sale of tile took place July 11, 1942.
This information was adapted from Viola Weis’s book, “Uniontown,” published in 1994.
Edwin Garretson is an archivist for the Whitman County Historical Society and a retired history professor at Washington State University.