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    THE COLEMAN BRICK PLANT
    Industrial Ghost Town in the City

    by John Troesser

    Coleman, Texas - Kiln in brick pen
    The Collapsed Kiln
    TE Photo
    We were standing in the shade in front of the Coleman City Library, waiting for a hailstorm to cool things off, when we decided to go to the antique store two doors down and see if they had a Coleman Brick. Before we go further, let us say that the sidewalk (and overhead) vegetation in front of the library creates a wonderful little oasis on Main Street and offers sanctuary from hailstones as well. We commend whoever is responsible. Coleman's Library, by the way, was organized 115 years ago. The Antique Shop people were as pleasant as could be, but they did think the request a bit strange. Rather than identify ourselves as brick collectors, we've learned that saying, "It's for a demented friend" works just fine. Our answer here was: "If I wanted a brick, I'd go to the brickyard. There's a lot of them lying around there." The directions were just west of town at the end of Live Oak Street.

    PAY DIRT

    We followed the directions over brick-paved streets and as we approached the plant we could see tons of brick and tile rubble nearly spilling over into the street. We thought we would find one marked COLEMAN in short order and be on our way. This was not to be. The abundant rubble reminded us of the pottery shards found around Mexican pyramids. The Aztecs evidently suffered from severe "Butterfinger Syndrome" or there was a lot of domestic violence, because there's nearly as much clay at Texcoco, Puebla as there is here in Coleman.There's something wonderfully simplistic about taking clay from a mountain and using it to create a brick town with brick streets. We're sure the men who sweated and broke their backs working here would agree that this vision is positively charming.

    Coleman Texas brick plant
    Brick plant
    What's left of the clay mountain

    TE photo
    The plant was abandoned. The clay mountain still towers over the skeletons of the buildings, but it doesn't tower like it used to. You could tell they could see the end was coming. With every brick made, the mountain was that much smaller. There seemed to have been a fire, but whether or not this caused the closing, we'll have to find out on our next trip. Of course we would never trespass, but we were chasing a little white rabbit (obviously some little girl's lost pet) and before we knew it we were in the brickyard searching for our way out. The site might be a little small to shoot an apocalyptic action movie, but it would be a great paintball arena. There appeared to be four long kilns, one of them collapsed. Remember, we were only looking for a brick marked COLEMAN, the pet rabbit and the way back to our car. Well, there were bricks marked Butler and there were bricks marked Acme and there were none marked COLEMAN. In truth, we found two marked COLEMAN, but they were cemented into walls and were evidently leftovers from the plant's early years.

    A SOAP BRICK

    The collapsed kiln revealed that all these other bricks were firebricks - special "vitrified" bricks that had to be imported from outside Coleman County. The irony of bringing in bricks to make bricks reminded us of a Saudi who told us that the Saudis import thousands of tons of sand every month because their home grown sand is lacking the qualities needed for glass making. Coleman also has silica-rich sand around Santa Anna.

    Mysteriously, one brick, resembling a quarter of butter, was imprinted with the word SOAP. It's texture and color though, was similar to the firebricks. We turned to Raoul who we keep around for just such situations and had him try to "lather up" with water from his, not our, canteen. He merely succeeded in abrading his palms and underarms. And you thought Lava was rough.

    The kilns were arched and resembled catacombs. The soot from the fire made them look like the ovens at Dachau. Fallen bricks revealed markings like: Wedge No.1 and Arch No. 2 etc. Somewhere there had been blueprints so that brick deficient towns all across America could order kits and build their own kilns.

    To end our story - we found our way out, took Raoul to the emergency room (where the Doctor on duty asked if he had been washing with a soap brick) and left Coleman City and Coleman County without a Coleman Brick.

    We thank Coleman for providing us with the site for this unusual, unknown (and unauthorized) tour. There can't be too many brick factory sites left and maybe the City will buy the property and develop it as an industrial ruin. At the least, they could make it available to host Conventions of The International Brick Collectors Association.

    Perhaps if brick collecting catches on, Coleman will reopen the plant and sell bricks imprinted with: "My Grandfather went to COLEMAN, TEXAS, and all I got was this damn brick."

    July, 2000
    John Troesser

    Forum
    Subject: Coleman, TX abandoned brickyard

    I was just surfing and happened across your article about your trip thru Coleman and the old brickyard there. My father worked for Martin Brick Co. for over 40 years. He was the plant manager for 30 years or so. I and my 3 brothers worked our way thru high school and college there, as well as a large percentage of folks from Coleman back in the day.At one time in the 1980's Martin Brick Co. employed over 200 workers, making it the largest employer in the county. There are a few old solid bricks left manufactured there still around, although I have none as I am not a brick collector.The last of those were made there back in the 1950's, at which time most brick manufacturers went to the "holed" kind because of freight. It shut down operations about 1995 due to the high cost (at the time) of natural gas. The owner made the effort to switch to a firing system by burning wood, but that proved to not be successful either. Thanks for the interesting read, it brought back memories. - Mike Merryman, April 28, 2012
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