CLAY RETORT AND FIRE BRICK WORKS, Red Hook

This long, low building on the corner of Richards and Van Dyke Street has a distinctive exterior, consisting of 20” thick stones, reminiscent of some churches. It originally was the storehouse of the Joseph K. Brick Company, founded in 1854 to produce items used in gaslighting. Brick originated the fire clay retort, a device used to produce gas used for illumination; gaslighting began to be widely used in the USA around 1850. The burgeoning steel industry also needed a liner material that could withstand high temperatures. Fire, or refractory bricks, filled the bill. The bricks are tempered so they can withstand high heat and were used to line iron furnaces, industrial stoves, brick and pottery kilns, and other devices that demanded materials with a tolerance for heat.

Clay retorts were instrumental in the production of gas from coal. The heated retort freed the volatile or gaseous matter contained in the coal. These gases were then carried through a series of pipes and appliances which condensed, washed, and scrubbed the crude gas, and by mechanical and chemical means removed the impurities from the product and made it ready for commercial use.

The storehouse was restored by Greg O’Connell in 1995 and 1996 and was the first landmark building designated in Red Hook.

Brick’s works may be the very first in the USA to produce fire bricks and clay retorts. Brick had originally owned fire clay deposits in southern New Jersey from which raw materials were shipped via the Raritan River directly to Red Hook. By 1860 it was producing clay retorts for Harlem, Hempstead, Long Island, and upstate Syracuse, and was branching overseas to Genoa and Trieste, Italy. Joseph Brick died in 1867, and the firm operated for some decades after that.

The Van Dyke Street storehouse is 125 feet square and built in basilica form with a bulls-eye clerestory window. The ground floor has been altered to allow vehicle access. Presently it is home to a glass etching company. The two-story brick building across the street, 99-112 Van Dyke, was also a part of the Brick complex and retains its old brick chimney.

10/13/16


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