Henry County IAGenWeb

Winfield Brick and Tile Works, 1882-1957

By Mrs. Lucille Rodruck

Images are property of Winfield Historical Society

click on images for larger views

Mr. Lyman Beecher Pierce, better known as L.B., operated a tile factory at Kossuth, Iowa sometime after the Civil War, the clay “ran out” there. Mr. Pierce scouted around and found what he thought was the ideal clay bank at the south east edge of Winfield in Henry County. He located here and established the Pierce Tile and Brick works, which did a thriving business. Making tile from the early 1 ½ inch to the 14” used in later years. L.B. operated the yard until his death in 1921, when the ownership came to his son Mr. Ed Pierce. Up to this time the tile works was steam operated. The drying shed was a large three story building. Having an elevator to hoist the green tile from the cutting mill to the upper dying sheds. Each tile was examined as it came from the mill, imperfects discarded, others placed on the cart taken to the drying sheds lifted off the cart one at a time and placed on the rack to dry. Great care was taken to avoid extreme temperatures, or sudden changes which caused the “green” tile to crack making them useless for drainage purposes. Mr. Ed Pierce remodeled the buildings eliminating the three story structure and using long one story sheds built over pits or cellars, which made it easier to control temperatures and humidity. The sheds were connected by rail road tracks upon which the little cars were pushed hauling the tile from the mill to the sheds. After the tile were dried properly, they were again placed on the cars pushed to the kiln. Placed in rows and when the kiln was filled it was sealed. Then began the last step in manufacture the “burning”, a slow fire was started in the boxes and heat gradually increased, until about 2100 degrees when it was “shut off” and allowed to cool slowly. A kiln full of 10,000 white hot tile is truly a wonderful sight. When cool the tile were again lifted and one at a time, examined for flaws, stacked in the yards or loaded on wagons or trucks for delivery.

When Mr. Ed Pierce modernized the plant, he installed electricity, discarding the old steam boiler. The new 40 horse motor made things easier at the plant, but all progress means loss of some familiar favorite. Now, no loner did the tile factory whistle say, “Dinner’s Ready”.

Mr. Ed Pierce operated the tile factory until his death. In 1937, Mr. J.A. Glass bought the Pierce interests. It was not new to Mr. Glass, as he had worked here as a boy and at intervals over the years. He was an expert kiln builder and had taken care of the kilns and stacks for many years.

Up until 1946, all the clay was dug from the bank by spade. Mr. Glass bought a Ford tractor with front scoop. Mr. Glass operated the Winfield Brick and Tile Works until 1951, when his Grandson Eugene Rodruck acquired ownership. He had returned due to ill health, but never lost interest.

Eugene operated it until 1957, when it was closed and dismantled.

During its many years of operation it furnished employment to as many as 15 or 20 men during the height of the season. It is almost impossible to even estimate the number of tile made in the plant during the seventy five years of operation.

In addition to the millions of tile many brick were made in the earlier days. Most of the brick for the early business buildings were made here. I think the oldest one now standing is the Winfield Hotel which is owned and operated by Mrs. Glass’s Grandson, Ronnie Rodruck.

There are five brick dwelling houses and many hollow tile garages that have been burned in the old kilns.

So closes a chapter in local history.

Transcribed and contributed by Pat White, December 2018

Histories Index  **  Henry County IAGenWeb

Copyright © 2018 IAGenWeb. All rights reserved.