Barry Schreiber, local historian and curator of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society museum, has a single goal when he takes an audience back in time.
To inform and fascinate at least one new person is Schreiber’s mission.
“I was delighted to have 45 people come on a Thursday evening to hear about Brickton,” Schreiber said before the start of his Dec. 12 presentation that chronicled the Princeton area’s heyday as a building material mecca.
Schreiber said the group was very interested, interactive, and amiable.
At the turn of the 20th century, Brickton was one of Minnesota’s foremost brick making locations. Schreiber said approximately 800 million bricks were fired locally two miles north of Princeton.
Arc imprints on the finished bricks came from wire cheese cutters that were used to extract the bricks when they were finished, Schreiber said. As the damp clay was pushed through a steel die, the material came out like toothpaste out of a tube.
Local brick makers were paid $1.15 a day for a toiling during a 10 hour-day. “It was a solid wage at the time,” Schreiber said. “The wheelbarrows came from the kiln all day long. The bricks were then put on railroad boxcars, 20,000 bricks to a car.”
The Princeton Great Northern Depot has 285,000 Brickton bricks in it, Schreiber said .The Villa Manor Building in downtown Princeton is three courses of Brickton brick thick, like the depot. “You only see the outside course,” Schreiber said. “The other two courses help make the walls about 18 inches thick.”
According to a supplemental history posted on the city’s website, the making of local bricks had its beginning in 1889 when the area known as Brickton began to be developed.
Princeton was one of the largest brick manufacturing towns in the state. There were about 20 million bricks being turned out in a year by 1902 and it took 47 train loads of 40 cars each to haul them away.
“Some trainloads went north, but many of them went south towards the Twin Cities,” Schreiber said. “We don’t have company records to know who those brick-buying recipients were, but we do know locally. The brick is distinctive.”
In 1926, Brickton was still producing as many as 4 million bricks a year. As train service diminished, however, the industry faded because of a lack of good transportation facilities.