Historical Images of Porter County

Porter Brick Yards
Porter, Indiana

Date: October 1904
Source Type: Photograph
Publisher, Printer, Photographer: Unknown
Postmark: Not Applicable
Collection: Steven R. Shook
Remark: Inscribed on the reverse of this 5" x 7" photograph is "Porter Brick Yards." It is believed that this photograph was taken after a fire destroyed the manufacturing facility of the Chicago Hydraulic Pressed Brick Company in Porter on October 20, 1904, resulting in a loss exceeding $100,000 (approximately $2.8 million measured in 2015 dollars). The company rebuilt the facility and ceased manufacturing bricks in 1924 when clay in the area became too scarce.

The Friday, October 21, 1904, issue of the The Chesterton Tribune reported [Volume 21, Number 29, Page 9, Column 6] that "The works of the Chicago Hydraulic Pressed Brick company, located at Porter, are in flames. Fire was discovered in the shipping department at 9:15 this (Thursday) morning, and at 10 o'clock almost the whole of the entire works were down, except the office, and it may be possible to save the barns. A locomotive on the Lake Shore is said to have caused the fire. Lack of water and adequate fire fighting facilities, together with a high south wind, prevented any fight being made that had a shadow of chance to be successful. The loss is enormous. No particulars can be learned at this writing, as the whole brickyard force and most of the population of the two towns are fighting the flames."

The next issue of The Chesterton Tribune [Volume 21, Number 30, Page 1, Columns 4 and 5], dated October 28, 1904, provided the following synopsis of the blaze at the brick yards:

Is What the Flames Made of the Works of the Chicago Hydraulic Press Brick Company
Particulars of the Greatest Disaster That Ever Visited Porter.

In the last issue of The Tribune we had barely time to make a mere mention of the terrible calamity that befell Porter last Thursday, and were obliged to go to press as the fire was at its height. In this article we shall endeavor to give our readers the particulars that can be gathered up to this time. The size of the calamity has dazed the people, and even yet, little can be learned.

The fire was first discovered at about 8:45 a. m., in the southwest end of the stock shed in the roof. One of the men unloading coal saw the flames and raised the alarm. Instantly the company's fire alarm was turned on, and without any delay water was turned on the flames. A fierce gales was blowing from the southwest, and the immense stock shed, nine hundred feet long and high enough to clear a locomotive, acted as an immense chimney, through which the flames and smoke belched with indescribable fury. In an incredible short space of time this shed was converted into a fiery furnace, and every fighter was driven out. The entrance to the main aisle which leads up through the kilns to the boiler rooms and press rooms acted as another flue for the fire, and all these parts of the works were soon a seething mass of flames. The men worked with the energy of despair, and in a number of instances some of them came near perishing. Chas. Stevens, G. N. Sward and Andrew Anderson, who were loading cars in the stock shed, came near losing their lives, and only escaped by rolling on the ground to a place of safety. A number of others had to burst their way through walls to escape. At ten minutes after nine o'clock the entire works, covering about ten acres, were a mass of flames. This included the stock sheds in which were stored about five millions of brick, the drying sheds, in which were stored half a million brick, the three story press rooms, the boiler room, machine shop, carpenter shop, grinding room, blacksmith shop, the martin machine room, No. 3 press room, a three story brick structure, six fancy brick dryer rooms, filled with shape brick, and about two hundred fancy brick molds, the straw sheds filled with 80 tons of straw, one coal shed filled with 150 tons of coal, one empty car and coke shed filled with coke. The oil house was broken open and the barrels rolled to a place of safety, thereby saving the barns. The office, a two story brick building, was saved. For a time it looked as though at least a part of the village of Porter must go, too. The Lake Shore engines, stationed at Chesterton, hauled water from Chesterton to feed the fire engine from Chesterton, and it was due to this fact that the flames did not spread over the town. It will be realized that as soon as the flames stopped the company's fire pump the company's means of defense was taken away, and there was nothing left but the fire department apparatus of Chesterton to fight with. The members of this company worked with effect and did effective work, and did hold at bay the fire that threatened the office and the town. That the company appreciated its efforts is best evidenced by the fact that Mr. E. C. Kimball, general manager of the company, sent Captain Haslett the following letter, accompanied by his check for $100:

Chicago, Oct 24, 1904
Mr. C. L. Haslett,
Capt., Chesterton Fire Dept.,
Chesterton, Ind.,

Dear Sir:
We enclose herewith our check to your order for $100, for the benefit of your company. We do this in appreciation of your work at our yard at Porter Thursday last. As our works practically are a complete loss, we feel that this amount is only showing you in a small measure how we appreciate the work of yourself and your associates in saving what little we have left.

Kindly sign the receipt attached to our check, and mail to

Yours truly,
Chicago Hydraulic Press Brick Co.
E. C. Kimball, Gen'l manager.

Upon its receipt the boys were dumfounded, but knowing the man behind the check as they did, they accepted it in the spirit it was sent, and will use it in the betterment of the facilities they have.

Manager E. C. Kimbell and Mr. S. S. Kimbell reached the scene of the fire at 11:45 that day, the Michigan Central stopping its last train to get them here. By that time there was nothing to be done but wait until the fire cooled down. Guards were placed around the plant, which have been kept on duty night and day ever since for the safety of the public. There are so many underground flues in the burnt district that there was danger that some one might lose his life while looking over the ruins.

The kilns, fourteen in number, are damaged but slightly. These cost to erect about $10,000 each. Those filled with brick are still in commission, and the fires were lit under the first one last Saturday. The second one was started Tuesday. On Monday the loading gangs went to work loading cars by wagon, as the railroad tracks were warped out of shape.

So far it is found that at least 25 per cent of the brick are ruined. In the small piles the brick are ruined by both smoke and heat, and check and break when disturbed. In the larger piles the damage is not so complete, and after removing the outer layers the brick comes out in fairly good condition. The net loss on the stock of brick will amount to about $15,000. It is found that one of the 50-horse hydraulic press engines and press is not damaged beyond repairs, and it is hoped that the other hydraulic outfit will be found in as good a condition. The boilers are not seriously damaged. They were full of water at the breaking out of the fire.

The work of cleaning up the debris was begun immediately, and will continue until the site is cleared. As to the loss sustained, no one, not even the officials of the company, will venture to estimate it, but it is safe and conservative to say that it will require the expenditure of at least $100,000 to start the works again. The company has not decided what it will do regarding rebuilding. A number of the leading officials have been on the grounds, and not until the directors have full information and make a decision, will it be known what will be done. As to insurance we cannot learn whether any was carried or not. Indications are that none was carried in the regular fire insurance companies, as no adjusters have been here, and if any was carried it is likely that it was in the Mutual, operated by the twelve hydraulic companies in the country, who carry their own insurance.

All of the employes of the plant are at work. They number about ninety men, and are clearing away debris and loading cars with brick. If the company decides to rebuild they will all be utilized in the work. If not, the greater portion of them will be obliged to move away. This is the condition today, and it is this uncertainty that is so depressing.

The company has such immense interests still here that it does not seem possible that it will not rebuild. It owns over three hundred acres of land, two hundred acres of which is as fine as there is in the world for brick making purposes. It has about $150,000 invested in brick kilns that are practically uninjured. Besides this a great deal of the machinery can be repaired so that it will be as good as ever, and to abandon Porter would mean a great loss to the company, as the kilns cannot be moved. We shall hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Return to Porter Businesses Images Index
Return to Porter County Photographs & Historical Images

Please contact the Porter County GenWeb Coordinator if
you can provide any additional information concerning this image.

Image and related text prepared by Steven R. Shook




CSS Template by Rambling Soul