Bricks and Mortar

Written by Link Ludington, Architectural Historian at Indiana State Museum

Some historic buildings are not simply preserved in their current condition, but instead are actually restored to an earlier historical appearance. This is what is happening at the Lanier Mansion in Madison, which is being restored to its appearance in 1850, when J.F.D. Lanier and his family were still in residence. The restoration involves reversal of alterations to the home which require locating matching bricks to fill in missing masonry. On most homes and buildings this would be a simple task. But a 19th century Greek Revival mansion like Lanier presents a special challenge.

Recently, I traveled to Madison to determine the target dimensions for the replacement brick, which will have to be custom-made because of their unusual characteristics. During the mid-19th century (when the Lanier Mansion was built, and when Madison was one of Indiana’s largest cities), most bricks were made by hand by forming wet clay in wooden molds before being dried and fired. Some were pressed in cast iron molds in brick-making machines. Most modern brick is mass-produced by a machine that produces a “ribbon” that is then cut into individual bricks by wire grids.

The bricks that were used in concealed areas of Lanier Mansion were the common hand-molded brick like that found in buildings all over Madison (and elsewhere throughout Indiana) from that period. The facing bricks used in all areas that were visible in the exterior, however, were an example of the special machine-made pressed brick with smooth texture and fairly sharp edges, but the brick making “machines” of that time were still operated by hand. Each of the pictures shows the difference — one is the smooth, machine-made, pressed brick, while the other is the hand-molded brick. It’s really hard to tell the difference. Machine-made pressed bricks can also be found in several other buildings in Madison from the same period, including the Shrewsbury House, another masterpiece designed and built by Francis Costigan, the same architect who designed and built the Lanier Mansion.

Machine-made pressed brick.

Common hand-molded brick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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