Many older Carrick houses, mansions and commercial buildings were built with bricks manufactured in the area.
Bricks were made by hand until the late 1800s, when machines automated production, churning them out faster and cheaper. Local bricks replaced stone as a favored raw material for building houses. Builders in the South Side and Carrick used bricks manufactured by Sankey Brick Company.
Founded in the early 1860s by William Sankey, their factory on 21st Street made bricks used to build Union fortifications during the Civil War. A railroad ended at the brickworks, making it easy to ship them.
The plant used shale quarried from the South Side Slopes. The Sankey quarry was called The Brickyard.
shale was dug from the hillside and pulverized to use to make the brick. I have a map showing the old Sankey Bros Brick Yard on Quarry Street near Mission Bridge Street.
The Sankey Brick Company became pioneers in automated brick production.
William Sankey retired in 1881 when his health failed, and he passed the management of the brick company to his sons, William E., John and Thomas Sankey. The company was renamed Sankey Brothers. William Sankey lived on the South Side but moved to Carrick shortly before his death in 1918. His obituary referred to him as “a pioneer brick manufacturer”.
The brickworks no longer operates. Its land is part of South Side Park. The former Sankey Brick Company office at 2112 East Carson is a beer distributor, Buddy’s Brews On Carson.
The Sankey’s wealth allowed two of them to build mansions in Carrick around the same time that people in Carrick gave up farming and the area became home to large houses owned by South Side businessmen, leading to Carrick becoming a borough and then a Pittsburgh neighborhood.
William Sankey’s mansion still exists on The Boulevard, where many of Carrick’s rich, influential citizens lived. The Wigman house, a wood Victorian structure, sits on a corner lot on The Boulevard.
The other Sankey mansion is on Churchview Avenue at Sankey Avenue. The street is named after the family’s mansion.
Along with mansions, houses and commercial buildings, streets were built with Sankey bricks. The bricks were a substantial improvement. Until then, streets were made of dirt and gravel. They were pools of water when it rained. For years people argued about how to pave them.
One solution was to lay wooden blanks like Brownsville Road had for a while.
Paving bricks provided a solution in the early 1900s, about the time that streets first began to be used by automobiles. Bricks are durable – they don’t wear away quickly under normal use.
Bricks roads are expensive to build and slippery when wet. They make slippery slopes, which is a drawback in an area with so many hills. Paving roads with asphalt was the solution.
After World War Two, people moving into the suburbans favored a distinctively suburban look for their homes – none of those brick houses cities were known for. Wood houses were less expensive to build and easier to heat. Building codes stopped requiring brick. New homes were built with wood.
The cost to build a house with brick today could be several times the cost to build with wood. As well, there’s the environmental aspect – bricks are baked using fossil fuels, while wood is a renewable resource and trees are good for the environment.
Those old brick houses that are part of Carrick’s history and a reminder of the neighborhood’s culture were built to a different standard. They were constructed with bricks that were manufactured in the area.