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Sherman Street
North Cambridge, MA

The first Europeans to arrive in New England had no brick to build their chimneys. "For their first log cabins they built chimneys and fireplaces of stone and plastered them with lime made from crushed clam shells. In a few years (they) quickly learned that local timber had much value in their homeland of England, so they started shipping timber there. The ships had to be ballasted in the empty hold with stone when coming back. They soon found they could ballast their ships with English brick. In this way they were paid both ways as stone would only be thrown overboard when they got back here. This created a good trade as brick was needed for chimneys here. Ballast brick can still be found all over (New England) in chimney foundations and cellars. Ballast brick is still as good as when it was made some 300 years ago."

"The English imported brick was known by two names--1) wheatstraw, or 2) ballast brick. In shipping it here, layers of wheat straw were layed between layers of brick to keep them from breaking up when the ships pitched in rough weather. The size of English brick was determined from time to time by the King of England. During the time ballast brick was being brought over here, the size was 7 inches by 3 3/4 inches and 1 3/4 inches.1"

As more and more houses were built in the New World, bricks from ship ballast were not enough to keep up with the growing demand. The colonists searched out local areas that had clay suitable for brickmaking. One of those areas was Medford, MA which quickly proved to have abundant quantities of good clay. It is not surprising that a bricklayer was among the earliest settlers here. Thomas Eames, who had been in Dedham by 1640, was living in Medford by 1652, when he was 34 years old. Eight years later he took young Joseph Mirrible as an apprentice, agreeing to teach him how to make and lay bricks, also how to write and reckon his accounts. Eames moved on to Sudbury by 1664, but there were many other brickmakers to take his place, and Medford became a center for the manufacture of brick. The brick business was profitable for Medford; bricks were of an excellent quality and much in demand. Toward the close of the nineteenth century, between 15 million and 20 million bricks were made each year by the Bay State Brick Company. On November 23, 1900 the name was changed when the original company was purchased by the New England Brick Company. Read more about "Making Bricks in Medford"

In the Boston area, clay extraction for brickmaking began in the 1840s in the area of the Still River and the Fitchburg Railroad. The person principally responsible for the establishment of the brick industry in Cambridge was Nathaniel J. Wyeth, who purchased clay lands in 1844 and opened them up for development. In 1847, Wyeth opened his own brickyard. Thereafter, the brick industry in Cambridge expanded or contracted in response to changes in the political or economic climate.

The extensive operations of the New England Brick Company were on the west side of Sherman Street (click for map). Its clay beds, excavated to a depth of 80 feet, were nearly exhausted by World War II; operations at those yards were suddenly ended in 1952 when a landslide buried the remaining steam shovel. The New England Brick Company closed its operations and sold the land to the city which used it for a dump until 1971. Today it is Mayor Thomas W. Danehy Park. Another company, Union Brick, was in the same area.

(Scroll down for Various Histories of North Cambridge.)

From a NEBCo advertising mirror.

The New England Brick Co. had many yards throughout New England including East Kingston, NH, Fremont, NH and Barrington, RI. In Fremont on Apr 21, 1912 "sparks from a train started a fire that consumed 7 houses with barns and shed, a boarding house, a dining hall, an ice house, a bakery, and a blacksmith shop at the New England Brick Company on Martin Road. The Brickyard was abandoned at time of fire." (source:

The web site "" states: "The Barrington and New England Brick Companies have left a significant physical record of nearly one hundred years of brickmaking in the Nayatt area of town. Resources include buried industrial sites in the vicinity of Legion Way, standing buildings such as the former Nayatt Hall on Middle Highway, and physical features such as Brickyard Pond, a flooded claypit, and Mouscochuck Creek, which was modified for use as a barge canal. ...the majority of the Brickworks site is contained within Veterans Memorial Park. At present, the Town in its role as steward of these historic resources appears benign. However, an explicit acknowledgement of the historic preservation values of these resources should be incorporated into town policies, so that earlier errors, such as the wholesale demolition of the Brickworks, are not repeated."

New England Brick Company Book

NEBCo Pattern Book of home designs from various Boston architects,
includes cost comparisons with wooden houses.
An uncommon brick/masonry trade piece.

From the Harvard Gazette:
"Eliot Canter '35 remembers going to the New England Brick Co. in North Cambridge to pick out bricks for the new Hemenway Gymnasium, whose construction he was overseeing. 'These were the special rough-textured bricks, the ones closest to the fire.' Canter, a member of the last Harvard class to receive a bachelor of science and civil engineering degree (BSCE), had gone to work full time for Canter Construction Co. three years earlier. His father, James J. Canter BSCE '09, founded the family-owned business in 1919. The younger Canter took over in the early 1950s and ran the company until his retirement in 1980. In addition to numerous construction projects around New England - everything from school buildings and post offices to shopping centers and racetracks - the firm built or renovated dozens of structures at Harvard."

Today the area near the site of the old New England Brick Company "is an exciting new community of single level apartments and townhomes a neighborhood rich with history." (Source: "")

Various Histories of North Cambridge


North Cambridge was a distinct, rural portion of the city of Cambridge, the seventeenth-century town that faced Boston from across the Charles River. Old Cambridge harbored philosophers and ministers, Harvard University, and the fine Yankee homes along Brattle and Mount Auburn Streets; it had once served as capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. At the end of the last ice age, the retreating glaciers had left behind a recessional moraine: a ridge of sand and gravel debris with summits that the colonists and their descendants christened Avon Hill, Observatory Hill, Reservoir Hill, Strawberry Hill and Mount Auburn. The hills formed a natural barrier between Cambridge town and the swampy plain beyond, leaving North Cambridge with its own character and pattern of development. At the time, the area was primarily known for its farms and pastures, and the slaughterhouses that surrounded Porter's Hotel (home of the Porterhouse steak) at what is now called Porter Square. But for the next fifty years, the development of the "clay lands" into a robust brick industry changed the area from bucolic Yankee farmland to bustling industrial center. Irish and French Canadian immigrants were drawn to the area to work for brick makers like Nathaniel J. Wyeth and Peter Hubbell, as New England's entry into the industrial revolution created a demand for the ubiquitous red bricks that were used to build textile mills, shoe factories and the newer halls of Harvard.

The brick yards boomed in the period during and after the Civil War, and from the large number of Irish immigrants who bought or leased workers' cottages in the neighborhood, it acquired the derisive names "Dublin" and "New Ireland."

The brickyard workmen wielded pick and shovel, then bore the clay from the pits by pushing a wheelbarrow up a steep dirt ramp. Donkey carts and horse-drawn wagons, and then steam shovels and trucks, were introduced over time. The clay was pressed into bricks, dried in long sheds, and the bricks then carted to domed kilns heated by wood or coal fires, where they were stacked and fired. It was a self-enclosed community, out among the swamps and pits, isolated by distance, ethnicity, religion and class from the Cambridge of Brattle Street and Harvard. Of the 31, 000 residents of Cambridge in 1865, 6,000 had been born in Ireland.

THOMAS P. O'NEILL, the future Speaker's father, was born in the fall of 1874. He was Patrick's and Julia's youngest son. Thomas was an ambitious man who began in the brick yards as a laborer for the New England Brick Company and learned the mason's trade. He lived at home until his mother Julia's death to save money, started his own neighborhood contracting business and was active as a union organizer. Thomas also took an early interest in politics, and at the age of twenty-eight was elected by the voters of the eleventh ward to the Cambridge Common Council, the lower of two legislative bodies of the city government. He served for three years, with seats on the important finance and roads committees. He became a member of the Democratic Ward and City Committee and the Cambridge Elks lodge and a Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus, whose balls, parades and minstrel shows were at the heart of Irish Catholic society.

North Cambridge was undergoing further transformation. The horse-car line from Harvard Square and the railroad from Boston had lured housing developers and home buyers to the area, and the opening of an electric trolley along Massachusetts Avenue completed the neighborhood's conversion to streetcar suburb in 1890. French Canadian immigrants were replacing the Irish in the dying brickyard industry, and roomy new two-family homes on tree-lined side streets began to displace the workers' cottages that had sheltered an earlier generation signs that the Irish Americans were climbing the economic ladder. Politically, the immigrants and their kin now outnumbered the Yankees in Cambridge, and in 1901 a silver-tongued Irishman named John H. H. McNamee defeated Yankee Mayor David T. Dickinson to become the city's first Irish American mayor.


According to the "Northwest Cambridge Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge," Cambridge Historical Commission, 1977, northwest Cambridge was opened to development with the building of the railroad in the 1840s. The area had abundant clay which had been used to make bricks since colonial times, but by the mid-19th century manufactured brick was in demand for the rapidly growing cities of New England. Commercial development of the clay lands which extended from Vassal Lane and Walden Street to Rindge Avenue and Alewife Brook was begun. Soon an industrial complex of brickyards, drying kilns and clay pits occurred throughout the area. The Cambridge Cohousing site is located on the northeastern fringe of the former brick manufacturing complex.

The man principally responsible for the establishment of the brick industry in Cambridge was Nathaniel J. Wyeth, who purchased clay lands in 1844 and opened them up for development. In 1847, Wyeth opened his own brickyard. Thereafter, the brick industry in Cambridge expanded or contracted in response to changes in the political or economic climate. The Civil War caused a cycle of expansion and in the decade which followed it, much of the workable clay land in the area was mined. The Panic of 1873 resulted in curtailed brickmaking operations at several yards and brought a change of ownership or bankruptcy to others; only the large commercial brickyards along the railroad survived. Economic recovery in the early 1889s brought the last period of expansion of the industry. In the decade that followed even marginal land on the periphery of the brickyards was mined. The Panic of 1893 signaled the end of brickmaking in North Cambridge, and within a decade all but two of the brick yards had closed.

As a result of consolidation and abandonment, by World War I the North Cambridge brick industry had retreated to the clay land along Sherman Street. On the west side were the extensive operations of the New England Brick Company.

Its clay beds, excavated to a depth of 80 feet, were nearly exhausted by World War II; operations at those yards were suddenly ended in 1952 when a landslide buried the remaining steam shovel. On the east side of Sherman Street clay excavation continued at the Hews Pottery brick yard until approximately 1970, when the pits were filled after 125 years of operation. The Hews factory building occupied a portion of the Richdale site.

Most of the clay pits were simply filled after being exhausted. The pits owned by the New England Brick Company on Sherman Street were sold to the City of Cambridge for a refuse dump in 1951; the City continued to use that site until the pits were completely filled in 1971. After being filled, the former clay pits were put to a variety of uses, primarily for public housing. Other uses were for the Tobin Elementary School on Vassal Lane and the Walden Square Apartments, which were built in 1971. A municipal incinerator was located on the site of the old municipal dump, approximately 2000 feet west of the Richdale Condominiums. The old maps and the presence of clay close to the surface indicate that the Cambridge Cohousing site was never mined for clay and, thus, was never used for dumping.

Although the railroad tracks were laid in the 1840s, the Cambridge Cohousing site was still undeveloped in 1854. In 1869 Horace Hews, a Weston potter and early associate of Nathanial Wyeth, bought a lot at 205 Richdale Avenue (then called Crescent Avenue) for his pottery. Horace Hews was a descendant of Abraham Hews who established the region's first potter manufacturing plant in Weston in 1765. Hews built a three and a half story factory on the Richdale site in 1870; the following year A.H. Hews & Co. moved there from Weston. It was an excellent location, adjacent to the clay pits of the New England Brick Company and to the Fitchburg Railroad. Several additions to the factory were constructed in 1888. Part of the Hews factory was destroyed by fire near the end of 1891; shortly thereafter it was rebuilt, four stories high and with a tall smokestack. A.H. Hews was now the largest manufacturer of pottery in the world; it produced as many as seven million flower pots a years, as well as large numbers of jardinieres, cuspidors and umbrella stands.

When the foundations for Cambridge Cohousing were dug, many broken bricks found, a substantial quantity of the excavated clay was saved and stored in plastic bags in the East End workshop. The plan was have clay workshops in which members of the community could use this clay to produce works of their own.


The 1842 extension of the Charlestown Branch Railroad from the Miller's River to Fresh Pond opened up North Cambridge for the brick and ice industries and for suburban development. The area that is now traversed by upper Raymond Street was rich in clay deposits; most of the north slope of Avon Hill between Raymond and Sherman Streets, including today's Raymond Street Park, was originally mined by local brick makers and by A. H. Hews & Co., which built 180 Raymond Street as a stable about 1870 and relocated it for conversion into a house in 1893.

A. H. Hews & Company, a maker of clay flowerpots founded in 1765 in Weston, Mass., was said in the 1970s to be the oldest continually operating manufacturer in the United States. In 1870 the company built a factory at the corner of Richdale Avenue and Raymond Street, were it remained until 1934, when it relocated to Sherman Street. In the mid-1880s the company was producing 7 million flowerpots every year in addition to other stoneware and terracotta products. The firm converted to plastic pots in the early 1960s and moved to Leominster, Mass., in 1980.

The northern end of Raymond Street was laid out beyond Walden Street between 1854 and 1873. During this period the New England Brick Co. filled a former clay pit between Walden and Raymond Streets and the Fitchburg Division of the Boston & Maine Railroad and subdivided it into more than 60 house lots on Walden, Raymond, Richdale, and Hubbard streets. While this area was almost entirely built up by 1894, the west side of Raymond Street was still an active brickyard in 1890. By 1894 the John E. Parry Brick Company had subdivided some of its frontage into four 5,332 sq. foot lots, which soon passed to the A.H. Hews Co.

From Discovery at Walden
by Roland Wells Robbins


Sunday afternoon, September 16, Mrs. Wheeler, Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Conant and I went to Walden Pond. Mrs. Wheeler spent the better part of an hour searching for a 'post-hole' but couldn't locate it. However, in her search she did find evidence which ultimately led to the key to the solution. She called our attention to two or three pieces of brick embedded in the soil just back of the cairn, in the pathway up the hill.

"Now Henry Thoreau was the only one to have brought brick into this vicinity. We had better cherish these fragments as gems," I remarked.

"Hold on to them then", agreed Mrs. Wheeler.


Walden Pond reservation is property of the State of Massachusetts, under the jurisdiction of the Middlesex County Commissioners. Mr. Fred Hart is the overseer. I now asked for and obtained permission from the proper authorities to carry out excavation work in the vicinity of the cairn.

Purchasing a pocket compass, a ninety-eight cent G.I. trench shovel, getting a couple more longer and stronger probing rods and several pairs of canvas gloves- but now I was questioning my immunity to poison ivy- I headed for Walden Pond the morning of October 18th. Thought I, "Where there's smoke there's fire. Guess I'll see what burns around the spot where Mrs. Wheeler located the brick pieces."

It didn't take much digging to find an answer. In an area eight feet long, three feet wide in its greatest width, and from two to seven inches beneath the surface of the ground, I found one hundred pieces of brick ranging from three quarters of an inch to a third of a brick in size. "Such luck- such gold!" I shouted to myself.

Taking the fragments, I hastened to Cambridge in the afternoon and had Mr. Carleton of the New England Brick Company check them for age. He found them to be old water-struck, hand-made brick.

"Could they be a century and a half old?", I asked hesitantly, fearing a negative answer.

"Easily", Mr. Carleton replied.

If ever there was a time when I desired to embrace a fellow man, it was then. Mr. Carleton went on to tell the history of brick and pottery, even reading from the ninth chapter of Genesis to prove his point and show that brick was one of mankind's first products. Mr. Carleton also told why some of the brick fragments I found had retained their solid state while others found were decomposed.

"You see," he said, "all bricks entering a kiln get off to an equal start. Made of the same ingredients, there is no such thing as a poor brick at the beginning. It's the positions they retain while being baked that determines the quality of brick. Those receiving the most heat shrink and condense into a more solid and better product than those further from the heat. Consequently they are impervious to frost and cold weather. They could remain buried one thousand years only to be removed in perfect shape. But it is not so with the brick not properly cooked. They come out larger in size, are porous and are no match for cold weather and frosts." Here he summed up this biographical study of brick with a philosophical comparison of a brick's beginning with that of mankind. "We, too, start life as equals. I believe they credit but ten per cent of our being at the time of birth to heredity, while the remaining ninety per cent is the character which we as individuals are to mold. Of course, you will say, the brick had no choice of position when placed in the kiln. That's true, but neither do we pick our parents or the station in life we desire to start from. As we develop we may choose the plan we desire to occupy and strive to achieve it. In this respect we have a decided advantage over the brick. You will find, son, the overall pattern of man, nature and beast is the same, the difference being in the modifications essential to adapt each to his environment".

Part of wards 9 & 10, city of Cambridge. (1903):

Map of Part of wards 9 & 10, city of Cambridge. (1903) showing New England Brick Company

For a hand colored lithographed map showing buildings (color coded for brick, stone, wood), stables and sheds, fire hydrants, water mains, sewers, assessors parcel numbers, size and owners of large parcels such as the New England Brick Co., CLICK HERE.

1. Anderson, Clarence J. local historian for Falmouth, MA (now deceased)
2. Websites:

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