Medford has within its limits large and valuable deposits of clay, which have given to its inhabitants abundant material for the manufacture of brick. Brickmaking has been one of the leading industries of the town. The first recorded mention of clay lands in Medford was in 1660, when Edward Collins sold to Thomas Brooks and Timothy Wheeler 400 acres of land in West Medford and exempted therefrom two acres of land “adjoining to Thomas Eames’ clay lands.” These clay lands were situated just south of Boston Avenue and between Arlington Street and the river. The two acres of land mentioned above were afterwards sold to Thomas Brooks, who made brick there in 1760. In 1714 Stephen Willis, Jr., sold a lot of land where Bigelow Block now stands on the corner of Salem and Forest Streets, and it was bounded on the “east by said Willis’ highway leading to his brickyard.” This yard is now the site of the new high school building on Forest Street. Ashland Street was originally a way to the clay land situated to the north of Water Street.
The great brickyards were situated on each side of Fulton Street and extended nearly from Forest Street to Malden line. They were sometimes called the Fountain yards, being in the vicinity of the Fountain Tavern. The Bradshaws, Tuftses and others made brick in these yards. Brick were made near the so called Cradock House, and that house was probably built from brick made near it. The yards in that vicinity have been for many years occupied by the Bay State and New England Brick Companies. Brick were once made on the land near where the Second Meeting House stood, by Caleb Brooks. There were numerous other places on the north side of the river where brick were made. South of the river were the “Sodom” yards, where the Tuftses made brick. These yards were west of the Cradock Schoolhousc lot and between Summer and George Streets. Brickyard Lane led to them from South Street. Nathan Adams made brick on the north side of Main Street in a yard afterwards worked by Mr. Babbitt. The present Elliott Street runs through this yard. John Buzzell and Son made brick in the yard near the Tufts College Station of the Boston and Lowell Railroad. This yard is at present worked by John S. Maxwell.
Another yard at the foot of Winter Hill near Winter Brook was worked for many years by Prosser and Littlefield, Thomas Casey and William H. Casey.
The Massachusetts Brick Company was formed in 1865 and made brick by a new process. Their yard was situated between Buzzells Lane and Harvard Street. This enterprise was not a success; the bricks made by this process were not in favor with brickmasons for the reason that they had no cleavage it being impossible to break them where desirable.
From History of the Town of Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts From its First Settlement in 1630 to the Present Time, by Charles Brooks, 1855:
The large deposits of valuable clay within the town of Medford early directed the attention of the enterprising inhabitants to the manufacture of bricks; and those made in 1630 for Mr. Cradock’s house were the first. Bricks were made on Colonel Royal’s estate. Clay deposits were found between his mansion-house and the river. A most extensive and profitable business was carried on in these yards for many years. At a later date, say 1750, bricks were made on land directly north of Dr. Tufts’s house. The steep bank now in front of Mr. George W. Porter’s house marks the place. This land, called Brick-yard Pasture,was owned by Rev. Matthew Byles, of Boston, and sold by him to Dr. Simon Tufts, March 26, 1761.
Nov. 14, 1774, the town passed the following vote: “That this town does disapprove of any bricks being carried to Boston till the committees of the neighboring towns shall consent to it.”
In 1785, Stephen Hall willed “the brick-yards now in the occupation of Thomas Bradshaw, and Samuel Tufts, jun.” About this time, Captain Caleb Blanchard and his brother Simon made bricks in a yard near Mr. Cradock’s house, in the eastern part of the town; and afterwards in a yard on land opposite the Malden Alms-house, just on the borders of East Medford.
The bricks used for the construction of the six tombs first built in the old burying-ground were made in a yard owned by Thomas Brooks, Esq. That yard was near Mystic River, about half-way between Rock Hill and the Lowell Railroad Bridge. In that yard, Samuel Francis made bricks as early as 1750, and sold them at ten shillings per thousand (lawful money). Mr. Brooks carried on the manufacture in 1760, and sold them at fifteen shillings. Mr. Stephen Hall was the next occupant of that yard, which has been discontinued since 1800. In 1795, the price was four dollars.
Captain Caleb Brooks made bricks on the land occupied by the second meeting-house. The banks remain visible* at this time.
A bed of clay was opened, in 1805, about forty rods east of the Wear Bridge, on land belonging to Spencer Bucknam, lying on the north side of the road. Only one kiln was burned there.
Fountain-yards. — These yards, which were near the “Fountain House,” about eighty rods east of “Gravelly Bridge,” were early in order of age. Messrs. William Tufts, Thomas Bradshaw, Hutchinson Tufts, Benjamin Tufts, and Sylvanus Blanchard were the manufacturers in that locality. These yards have been discontinued within our day.
Yards near the “Cradock House” were opened in 1630. Mr. Francis Shedd occupied them in 1700.
“Sodom-yards.” — As the familiar and improper sobriquet of Sodom was early given to that part of Medford which lies south of the river, the brick-yards, opened by the brothers Isaac, Jonathan, and Ebenezer Tufts, obtained the local name. After these gentlemen came Seth Tufts, who, with his son Seth, carried on the business till recently. These yards were situated near Middlesex Canal and the river, about south-south-east from Rock Hill.
The next in order of age were the yards opened in 1810 by Nathan Adams, Esq. They were situated each side of the old county road, leading from Medford over Winter Hill, and were about half a mile south of the “Great Bridge,” in the small valley on the borders of Winter Brook. From the first kiln, Captain Adams built the house now standing on the right side of the road, twenty rods north of the kiln, as an advertisement; and the bricks show the goodness of the clay and the skill of the workmen. These yards were next occupied by Mr. Babbitt, but have been discontinued for ten or fifteen years.
We presume that bricks have been made in many places now unknown to us; for nearly the whole of Medford seems to have a deep stratum of pure clay under it.
The facility of procuring pine, chestnut, and hemlock-wood by the Middlesex Canal made this branch of business profitable; but when steam navigation could bring bricks from Maine, where wood was half the price it bore here, the Medford trade was fatally curtailed. The bricks were carted to Boston at great cost, which gave the yards in Charlestown an advantage over ours. If they were taken in “lighters,” by the river, this did not much lessen the expenses of transportation, but increased the risks of fracture. The high price of labor, of wood, and of cartage, rendered competition unwise; and the manufacture of bricks has ceased.
Excavations In Clay Lands.
The attention of the Board has been called by the selectmen of the town of Medford to certain excavations which have been made in clay lands for the manufacture of bricks. These have been visited and the following facts observed: On the grounds of the Massachusetts Brick Company there are pits, covering many acres, from which the clay has been removed to a depth of forty feet. These pits are full of water, and steam-pumps are required to free them so that the work of excavation may still proceed. The bottom of these pits is apparently below the level of Mystic River and tidewater. On the territory occupied by the Bay State Brick Company a similar state of things was found. Excavations of very great extent may here be seen extending over an area of from ten to twenty acres, and of a depth of at least thirty feet, and partially filled with water, which is hold securely by the clay. The bottom of these pits is apparently below the level of the tide, and consequently undrainable by gravitation. There are other and similar excavations in Medford and other towns where bricks are made. Some of them were made long ago; the surface is now covered with grass, and buildings have in some instances already been put on these treacherous holes.
We believe this subject is one eminently worthy of legislation in the interest of life and health. The present danger is very considerable, from the liability of persons not aware of the existence of these holes walking into them in the nighttime and perishing miserably. We are informed that lives are thus sacrificed every year in Medford. But this immediate and present danger is insignificant in comparison with the certainty that whoever shall occupy dwellings in a sunken territory, whose soil is clay, will sicken and die. If anything is proved in sanitary science, it is the unfitness of an undrainable clayey soil for human residence. These lands are within four miles of the state house; a dense population is destined to press upon their immediate neighborhood within a few years, and unless their occupation for dwellings is in some way made impossible, we shall soon see a needless sacrifice of health and of life.
We would suggest that the owners of such sunken lands, whether excavated by themselves or their predecessors, should be compelled to raise them to a grade which will permit them to be thoroughly drained before using them, or permitting their use for the erection of dwellings.
The Medford Historical Society also has a good page on the brick industry therefrom.