Refractories, commonly called brickyards in Clearfield County, were a vital part of the local economic landscape for well over a century.
They would not have begun in the county if huge deposits of high-quality fire brick clay and coal deposits of high BTU output were not found nearby.
They indeed were, and Clearfield County saw the rise of over a dozen brickyards. Abundant railway lines brought carloads coal, coke and clay to the refractories and left with countless millions of bricks, year after year.
Brickyard workers toiled long and hard in their labor-intensive industry. Refractories employed more men (as was common in days gone by) than any other county industry, except coal mining.
The United States once had a nearly insatiable demand for bricks. They were used from everything from home and multiple structure buildings to being embedded to pave town streets.
A prime product of the brickyards was fire bricks. Ironically, the intense heat needed to manufacture the bricks tempered them to structurally withstand the even more intense heat of steel furnaces.
Clearfield County fire brick was shipped off to steel mills to help build the once internationally dominant steel industry that made possible the mass construction and auto industries, as well as the U.S. victories in World Wars I and II. The wartime slogan of, “We do our part,” has roots in Clearfield County.
The Wallaceton Fire Brick Company was founded in 1881 by a number of investors. William A. Wallace, a prominent businessman and U.S. Senator, from Clearfield, was among them.
The name of Wallaceton Borough and its brickyard are a part of his legacy. Within seven years, using early production techniques, 10,000 bricks per day were being turned out.
Wallaceton is located along U.S. Route 322. Railroads and later roads were easily connected to needed resources and, hence, brick productivity, as were similar brickyards in Irvona, Osceola Mills, Chester Hill, West Decatur, Bigler, Woodland, Clearfield and Curwensville, to name a few.
Wallaceton’s Fire Brick Company was later sold to the larger Harbison Walker works, which, in turn, closed in 1984. Imported steel, tariff policies, lighter weight autos and the rise of the extensive use of plastics made way for the decline of county brickyards.
Many of those brickyards have been demolished and wide spaces or other buildings have taken their place. Some local homes and buildings still carry the brickyard industry in their solid construction to this day.