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Heralding Our History: Worstall brick kiln fires up Newtown transformation

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Brick is one thing that changes the complexion of a community. Newtown had at least two brick structures, one on South Main Street and the other — later known as the Brick Hotel — at the intersection of State Street and Washington Avenue in the 18th century. It was not until the late 1860s that brick became a common building material for houses, and the predominant building material for commercial structures.

The period after the Civil War saw Newtown shift from a Colonial to a Victorian town. In the 50 years following the Civil War, Newtown grew dramatically. State Street grew into the town’s main commercial area. The town expanded from its core straddling the Newtown Creek easterly along Yardleyville Road (later called Washington Avenue) into the countryside. New streets were laid out and new houses constructed along these new thoroughfares. The village also began to stretch out southerly along State Street.

The core of the town also changed. Many of the older houses were replaced by more modern ones. The Dec. 15, 1870 Newtown Enterprise noted that the general appearance of the borough “has greatly changed in consequences of the improvements going on — twenty new houses already built and under the process of erection. A new hall, depot, and printing office all will add greatly to the interest of the town.”

The growth and changes to the town continued for much of the next decade. Another note in the same newspaper noted that in the period between March 1, 1866, until March 1, 1878 “there have been erected sixty-nine dwellings and twenty-nine business houses, excepting barns, stables and other outside improvements.”

A railroad line between Philadelphia and Newtown opened on Feb. 2, 1878. The line was intended to be extended to New York but never completed. However, the railroad allowed for the movement of building materials that ended the traditional dependence on local sources. Prior to this time, materials had to be brought in via the Delaware River or Canal and then brought to town in wagons.

The May 28, 1868 Newtown Enterprise proclaimed “We have it.” The establishment of a brickyard was a fixed fact. A sufficient quantity of clay suitable for brick making had been discovered on the farm of Edward Worstall, a short distance east of the borough, on the Newtown-Yardley Road, then called the Yardleyville Pike. The business was conducted by G.C. & J.S. Worstall. The 1876 Atlas shows a brickyard on south side of Washington east of the borough at the time.

Historian Josiah B. Smith’s manuscripts note that George C. Worstall and brother Josiah S. Worstall built a brick kiln on the farm of their father, E.H. Worstall, on the turnpike a half-mile east of State Street on April 1, 1869. Charles Willard’s new house on Washington Avenue was reported under construction on April 22, 1869. “It is being built of brick, by Mr. Rowland, the first, brick house erected here of Newtown brick.” It was reportedly completed by June.

One of the first large structures built from the Worstall brickyard was the Triumph Building on South State Street. This building began to reshape State Street with taller commercial structures in place of the older two-story residences and shops. It was a three-story structure that housed three stores on the ground level including a barber shop and residential uses on the second floor and a Triumph Lodge Hall on the third floor.

According to the local newspaper, the front of the building was built of pressed brick from the Worstall kiln. The newspaper proclaimed that they were “a first-class article, good as any that can be purchased in Philadelphia.”

The Newtown Enterprise indicated that the brickwork was done by George Rowland “of Worstall brick.” Rowland had recently moved to Newtown and set up operations on April 1, 1869.

Business boomed. The April 26, 1873 newspaper reported that to keep pace “with the march of improvement, Messrs. G.C. & J.S. Worstall have enlarged their facilities for the manufacture of brick, by increased sheds and other appurtenances. There will be a large demand for building material the coming summer.” The brothers had already established a coal yard by the railroad station.

A decade later, in October 1882, the Worstall Brothers opened a brickyard and kiln by the railroad depot, (between South State Street and Lincoln Avenue) and concentrated various business enterprises. It was there that the brick for what’s now known as Newtown Theatre was baked in 1883.

The following year, two distinctive buildings, both designed by Bucks County architect Thomas Cernea (and both noted in the April 4, 1874 newspaper), were constructed of brick on South State Street.

One was Joseph Roberts’ three-story store that is now part of the Temperance House property.

The other was the Newtown Enterprise building built for E.F. Church. About 71,000 bricks from the Worstall Brothers brickyard were used for the building. Its front openings were arched with pressed brick and the overall brickwork reflected great credit upon the bricklayers.

Jeff Marshall sits on the Newtown Historic Association’s board of directors.

“Heralding Our History” is a weekly feature. Each month, the Herald delves into the history of one of its towns.


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