Paving Through History – A Short History of Brick Making in Stark County

The Repository, Sunday, April 15, 2001

Paving Through History

Wooster geologist tries to crack area’s brick-making past
By Charita M. Goshay, Repository staff writer

Roller bearings weren’t always the only game in town.
From the late 1800s through the 1930s, Canton was the world’s leading manufacturer of paving brick.
Karrie McAllister, a geologist at the College of Wooster, is researching the history of brick-making in Northeast Ohio, particularly in Canton, Wooster, Waynesburg, Malvern and Alliance.
McAllister said the industry’s roots in Ohio go bact to the French and Indian War.  The region’s natural abundance of high-quality clay and shale and established shipping routes made it a natural for brick-making.
‘The first brick building was build in Marietta around 1788,’ she said.
Early bricks, McAllister said, were sun-dried, taking sometimes as long as a month to dry.  As technology advanced, demand increased.
The first brick was used for houses.  After early attempts to also used them for roads failed, a heavier, pressed ‘paving’ brick was created.
McAllister said Ohio’s first paved street was built in Steubenville in 1884, and that the first mass production of paving brick in Ohio took place in Malvern in 1885 at the Canton-Malvern Fire Clay Paving Brick Co.
The industry grew rapidly.  By 1893, 44 Ohio companies produced 292 million bricks.
Whitacre-Greer Fireproofing Co. was founded in Waynesburg in 1916, the results of a merger between Whitacre Fireproofing and the Greer-Beatty Clay Co.  In 1993, the company relocated its headquarters from Waynesburg to its lone operating plant in Mahoning County, near Alliance.
‘Whitacre-Greer is the only company in Ohio still making traditional (pressed) paving bricks,’ McAllister said.
But Canton, McAllister said, was the center of the paving-brick universe.  At one time, there were 15 plants operating in the city.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame sits on the site of the old Williams Brick Co., and Fawcett Stadium occupies what was the company’s shale pit, she said.
Between 1885 and 1920, attorney Henry S. Belden Sr. started five brick companies, including Canton Brick, which produced the city’s first paving bricks.  Belden, who also served a term as mayor, installed Canton’s first paved road, two blocks of what is now Cleveland Ave SW.
Another Belden company, Canton Cleveland Brick, was merged in 1902 with the Metropolitan Brick Co., which was run by Harry S. Renkert, a second-generation brick maker.  As a result, Metropolitan became the nation’s single largest producer of paving brick.  In 1923, the company produced 93 million pieces.
McAllister said Metropolitan’s Ironrock Street Paver bricks were used to help build New York City’s Queens Midtown and Holland tunnels, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and parts of the old Lincoln Highway.  It also has been on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
In 1912, Harry Renkert built Canton’s first ‘skyscraper,’ an 11-story office building at the corner of Market Avenue N and Third Street NE, out of paving brick.  It still is in use.
The company switched to producing ceramic tile in the 1970s and became Metropolitan Ceramics.  Renkert’s descendants are still involved in the company.
Belden’s Diebold Fire Brick Co. became what is known today as Belden Brick.  With 500 employees, the company produced 225 million bricks a year, and still is owned and operated by the Belden Family.
Remnants of Canton’s days as a brick-making powerhouse are evident in some of its historic neighborhoods, including Ridgewood and Harter Heights, which have maintained brick streets, and downtown on Cleveland Aveune S.
McAllister said Ohio’s brick industry remained viable until the 1930s.  As the number of automobiles increased, demand to find faster methods of road construction resulted in more use of asphalt and blacktop, which also were cheaper.
‘It takes 500,000 bricks to pave one mile of road, 25 feet wide,’ she said.