NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at [email protected].
During the early days of Newmarket, fire was a constant threat as nearly every structure was made of wood. There were at least four major fires on Main Street alone before the 1890s and businesses were repeatedly forced to rebuild. This was the case with many a home in the village, as well.
The answer would eventually be the construction of buildings using brick as the material of choice. Luckily for the village, a local source of brick was available from the Stickwood Brickyard.
The brickyard was on the north side of Srigley Street, just off Prospect Street, east of the creek. The site was sold to a developer in the early 1990s, and another landmark in our history become but a memory.
For more than 50 years, the Stickwood farmhouse stood on the site of the present-day Prince Charles School, where the brickyard was a hive of industry.
Men worked in the brickyard for six or seven months each year and then would spend the winter months cutting wood in the hardwood bush covering the area on both sides of the 3rd Concession, just east of the Srigley and Stickwood properties.
The workers obtained room and board in the huge farmhouse, eating meals at a long table in the oak- timbered dining room with a huge fireplace at one end. Several servant girls under the supervision of Mrs. Stickwood prepared and served all the meals. Here also they baked bread and pastry and cured their own pork. They also did the laundry, probably using homemade soap.
Mrs. William Walker (nee Francis Stickwood), great granddaughter of Isaac Stickwood, tells us she has never purchased bed or table linen in her lifetime, as she still uses these items that have remained in the family from more than 70 years ago.
During the winter, the men not only cut hardwood on the Srigley farm for making bricks, but they also cut and delivered hardwood to the railway station for use in the wood-burning steam engines of the day. One hundred cords per winter were contracted for by the railway. They also hauled to the station all the barrels of flour made in the J.W. Marsden Flour Mill, which stood on the site of the Office Specialty Co. Ltd.
Issac Stickwood, his wife and family came to America from Cambridgeshire, England by sailing ship in the spring of 1857, landing in New York. They came to Toronto by way of Albany. He spent two years working at the Davisville brickyard and then moved to Newmarket, where he purchased the Srigley Street property.
He made his first kiln of bricks in 1860 and continued until 1871, when he turned the business over to his eldest son, William, who carried on the business until 1886. He purchased the Stickwood farm at Bogarttown on Mulock Drive, where his granddaughter, Mrs. William Walker lived until the Town of Newmarket purchased the property in 2003.
The brickyard was subsequently taken over by a younger brother, Charles Stickwood, in 1890, who carried on the business until the autumn of 1917 when the decision was made to close the brickyard due to the scarcity of hardwood for firing the kilns, and likely due to increased competition from the coke- fired kilns in Toronto.
At first the brick was made by hand, one at a time. Later, machinery was purchased that enabled the brickyard to turn out thousands of bricks. Practically all the brick buildings, houses, stores, schools and churches built in Newmarket and district from 1860 to 1910 were built with Stickwood brick.
This brick was generally yellow in color and was said to be a bit soft but durable. If you walk around Newmarket and find the homes that are not painted, you will see the light-yellow brick that was a trademark of the Stickwood brick works.
Most of the brick buildings constructed with the Stickwood brick were painted, as it was said that the brick tended to be porous and needed to be painted for preservation.
A subdivision now encompasses part of the Stickwood Brickyard site, but one can still see the creek and parts of the original property, accessed via Prospect Street behind the Crow’s Nest restaurant.
Why not go for a walk around town and see if you can identify a building constructed with Stickwood brick?
Sources: History of the Town of Newmarket by Ethel Willson Trewhella; Genealogical Study of the Issac Stickwood Family by George Luesby and Richard MacLeod; interview with Mrs. William Walker (nee.Francis Stickwood), Newmarket Historical Society