Brickmaking was the major industry on Cedar Bayou from 1865 to 1915 when 10 million to 12 million bricks a year were shipped to Galveston and Houston.
James Casey opened the first yard in 1864 and his son Mike’s brickyard was the last still in operation when he shut down sometime around 1916. All these bricks were made by the soft-mud process where the clay was soaked in water and tempered before being molded. Before 1870 brick makers molded the bricks by hand and could make about 2,000 a day. This is the process used at Ashbel Smith’s yard at Devil’s Elbow. In 1870 everything changed when the yards started using brick machines. These machines which were heavily advertised in Galveston newspapers could mix the clay and automatically press it into a mold. This upped the ante and a crew could now make up to 30,000 bricks a day with either horsepower or a steam engine, limited by how fast they could feed clay into the machine and take molded bricks away to be dried before they could be fired in the kiln. Steam engines were used at the two biggest yards of Rosamond, Milam & Bro and J.P. Davie, and maybe others too. By the 1890s the brick machines were getting worn out and parts were no longer available. The cost of new machines was prohibitive because of the low profit margin and competition from bigger yards. Since they couldn’t repair them properly, they figured out how to make do with what they had. They still used the mixer, or pug mill, function of the machine but reverted back to making bricks by hand rather than using the press function originally built into the machine. This is how it was done when Nelson Martin worked at Mike Casey’s yard in the early 1900s. In 1968 he wrote a series of articles for The Sun about Cedar Bayou brickyards and said they could make 5,000 bricks a day by hand using the pug mill.