Idaho History

When Idaho’s frontier towns turned to brick, many looked nearby for kilns

John Lemp manufactured his own brick for the big Lemp Building on Main Street.
John Lemp manufactured his own brick for the big Lemp Building on Main Street. Idaho State Historical Society

One by one, Idaho’s frontier towns began to replace their downtown wooden buildings with brick. Because brick was heavy, most places found it less expensive to manufacture the brick at home than to pay to have it shipped.

In May 1882, a Mr. Cone had a contract to burn 200,000 bricks for Bellevue businessmen, and 200,000 more for a Colonel Green at Muldoon. That month in Boise, H. Stockford, chief competitor of the Flanagan brothers, had a kiln of 250,000 bricks burned and ready for delivery for the house being built for James A. Pinney, and had 5,000 more ready for burning.

The Statesman noted: “Mr. Stockford is prepared to furnish brick, sand and lime to parties desiring to build. He calls attention to a sample of his brick at Calkin’s & Nourse’s store. We understand that he has opened a bank of sand which carries a good deal of lime, superior to any ever found in this vicinity.”

In September 1889, pioneer brewer and all-around businessman John Lemp began work on what would be Boise’s largest business block. The Statesman reported: “John Lemp’s large kiln of brick near Hull’s Gulch, has been thoroughly burned and only awaits cooling for use in completing the masonry on the new block. Rumor says Mr. Lemp will continue making and burning brick for an indefinite time to come.”

On Oct. 3, 1889: “Mr. John Lemp has another kiln of brick containing nearly half a million now nearly ready for burning. This looks as though Mr. Lemp intends to go on building indefinitely. A few more citizens like Messrs. Lemp, Sonna and Davis would soon give Boise a truly metropolitan appearance.” Peter Sonna and Thomas Davis were wealthy pioneers who had contributed much to the city’s growth and reputation.

When masons Finnegan & Cremier placed the last brick in the Lemp Block that month, the Statesman commented: “The huge building has swallowed up just a half million of brick. The work done by these masons is first class in every respect.”

Ketchum’s Lapoint brickyard was shipping bricks to Hailey in August 1889 to be used in rebuilding a section of that town that had recently been destroyed by fire. Lumber for the purpose was also being delivered.

A brick factory was started in Nampa in June 1890, “as that young town has begun to build permanent business structures downtown,” noted the Idaho Statesman. About 8,000 bricks were added to the kiln every day, and it would soon be ready for firing.

The paper reported that July: “Mr. Thomas Finnegan is over from De Lamar. Tom has been making brick all summer for that flourishing mining town.”

The big news in the making of bricks at the turn of the century was the nationwide production of vitrified brick and its use for paving city streets and sidewalks. A vitrified brick is fired at a higher temperature and for a longer period of time than a conventional brick. In Boise, the Idaho Vitrified Brick & Tile Co. opened its first test kiln on May 1, 1902, after a burning of 30 hours. The officers of the company were “well satisfied with the product.”

That June the company ordered $40,000 worth of equipment for large-scale production of vitrified brick from the C.W. Raymond Co. of Dayton, Ohio. The local company’s commitment to producing this new kind of brick was total.

Next week we’ll share Boise’s adventures and misadventures with paving downtown streets with bricks.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email