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TAYLOR FAMILY BRICK MAKING IN SJ COUNTY

 

February 16, 2018



TAYLOR FAMILY BRICK MAKING IN SJ COUNTY

Elmer Franklin Taylor came to this part of the county at the age of 17. Here he married, built homes and raised a family of thirteen children (from two separate marriages to Mary Jane Steele and Adella Armina Bond). He was a successful farmer, mason, stone cutter, businessman and politician.

The history of brick making and masonry within the family of Elmer Taylor is a tradition based on love, pride of craftsmanship, and honor to those who practiced and perfected the craft. It is tied to the history of place, wherever that place is, and to the people who settled the area. San Juan County pioneers contributed to this history through their efforts to establish a community in which to settle and raise their families. These efforts began with making the bricks to build a house and these efforts laid the foundation for a long family history of masonry and construction within the Taylor family.

Handmade bricks have been an integral part of human history since 7500 BC. In drier climates such as here in the Southwest, unburned brick, known as adobes, could be used and would last for years. In climates where moisture was an issue, the adobes needed to be fired in a kiln in order to make them waterproof. These bricks could last for centuries, if necessary.

This process of turning unfired adobes into bricks was perfected locally by the family of Elmer Taylor and his sons. The unfired bricks were made from sand and clay gathered from ditch bottoms. From 50,000-100,000 dried adobe bricks were then stacked into a kiln and plastered with mud. The kiln included three to five tunnels. or “eyes”, into which cottonwood logs were stuffed and burned for 24 hours a day for two weeks. The resulting stacks of bricks could build at least 3 or 4 small homes.

Brick making and brick laying are back breaking work, from hauling materials, stacking brick into the kiln to be burned, hauling the brick to a building site, mixing the mud and mortar, and finally laying them into a wall one by one. The amazing human part of this process is that the brick had to be made one by one and had to be laid up into a structure one by one. In today’s mass-produced world robots are just now beginning to be developed to do this one at a time task.

Buildings constructed by Elmer Taylor and his associates John Biggs and Walter Ashcroft included the original First National Bank Building, the Hunter Mercantile Company, the local Junior High School, work on the Navajo Methodist Mission, many of Shiprock’s early buildings, the Mormon Chapel in Kirtland, and dozens of residences in Farmington, Fruitland and Kirtland area.

The Taylor family of brick makers and brick masons in San Juan County included Elmer and his sons, Clinton, Lloyd, Merrill and Bobby. Merrill passed that skill on to his son Tom, who passed on the skill to his sons Tyson and Thomas. And so the tradition and history continues the legacy started many years ago by a man who simply wanted to build a strong and lasting house for his family.

 

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