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Where was the Langhorne Brick Company?

Submitted and published in the Langhorne Ledger by Sally Valone of the Historic Langhorne Association      

      Reading the history of other historical Langhorne buildings such as the Historical Langhorne Association headquarters being made of 82,300 bricks from the Langhorne Brick Company. I never really knew where the brick yard property was.

            Larry Langhan’s great grandfather and Jack Knight’s grandfather, Grant Umberger, began his career as a brick maker and continued that trade for many years, fourteen of which were as owner and operator of the Langhorne Brick Company.

            The brick yard was a tract of 16 acres that used to run from the corner of West Richardson Ave.,  south on Hulmeville Ave.  to Gilliam, and from Hulmeville Ave. west on Richardson almost to the Borough line. As you drive along Hulmeville Ave. you’ll notice that the ground is lower along the woods. Joseph Johnson, an Englishman, established a fully equipped brickyard there and did a surprisingly large business until 1837.

            It was the best clay in the lower end of the county and he hauled brick over the then mud roads with a team of horses or oxen to build a hotel in “Bustletown,”  10 miles: to build the 1765 Delaware House at Bristol, 7 miles, and to build many other brick houses through the lower end of the county.

            According to an article written for a local newspaper in 1968, Samuel Eastburn wrote that the yard was abandoned for exactly 50 years when he bought it off the estate of Dr. Thomas L. Allen and then organized the Langhorne Brick Company which burned over 3 million bricks a year for several years.

            When Grant Umberger bought the brickyard it was many, many years old and the buildings and business had run down. Grant transformed it into a growing business for several years. At the beginning of World War I cinder blocks became popular and the call for bricks began to fall off, as well as the fact that the supply of good clay was running out. The clay was a very special type that would produce good bricks, and not just any clay would do. It was then that Grant decided to shut down the business.

            Grant’s descendents learned that the brick making process is a continuous hand operation, Starting with extracting the clay from the ground, and then the clay is put in a pit where it is ground with a cogwheel on a shaft, and on the shaft is a steel wheel with two arms. A pair of horses were hitched to these arms and they pulled the mixer around the pit four complete turns to thoroughly mix the clay for the next process.

            Work started at 4:30 A.M. The clay was brought to the worktable where the “maker” filled the mold that held 3 bricks. The molds were turned upside down to remove the bricks and placed in the sun for drying where they remained for the rest of the day. The next day the bricks were turned over to expose the underside for drying. The process continued until they were properly dried. In the meantime another batch was prepared for the molds.

            The dried bricks were now ready to be placed in the kiln for hardening. This was a long tedious and tiring task. There were two kilns, each holding 100,000 bricks. The bricks were placed so that the hot air would circulate and then the fires in the kiln were started.

            The fires were very, very hot and at times they were visible as far away as Hulmeville. This high heat was kept up for 3 and a half to 4 days and had to be supervised closely. Grant would sleep in the office and get up every hour to care for the fires. This type of supervision would be kept up for 48 hours.

            After the bricks were hardened, the fires were shut down  and the kiln cooled off. The bricks were removed when cool, and stacked ready for sale. The bricks were sold for about $10 to $15 per thousand, depending on the grade. The 82,300 bricks for the Langhorne Library at 160 West Maple Ave. were purchased at a cost of $976.

            Considering the amount of work that went into the making of bricks, it is easy to see why these special bricks at Historic Langhorne Association headquarters are treated with such loving care to preserve them for future generations. 


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