A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Monday, April 4, 2011

History: Cliffwood Brick Company, Cliffwood, New Jersey

I have found the following articles mentioning the Cliffwood Brick Company of Cliffwood, NJ.

The 27 January 1894 edition says, "The Cliffwood Brick Co. intend making improvements to their plant. the small boiler will be replaced by a larger one and the smoke stack will be taken down and a large brick chimney put up in its place."

The 20 July 1895 edition of The Matawan Journal registers the construction of an addition to the kiln sheds of the Cliffwood Brick Company.

The 24 March 1899 edition of The New York Times carried a story of 104 negroes from Oklahoma who were stranded in Jersey City on their way to Liberia. The owner of the Cliffwood Brick Company brought them to Matawan to work for him. 

The 30 March 1899 edition of The Matawan Journal provided the local perspectives on the above story. The article (below) makes clear that brickmaking is a seasonal enterprise.

Proved the Good Samaritan

The Cliffwood Brick Company, of which James P Avery is manager, has been widely quoted the past week through the metropolitan press because of the offer made to give employment to 1-half of a party of colored people who were on their way from Oklahoma to Liberia and became stranded upon their arrival in Jersey City. The party numbered 104 persons, including men, women and children. The men had paid $34 a ticket to reach Jersey City and upon their arrival they were unable to go farther for lack of funds.

Last Friday afternoon the party reached Cliffwood Station, their baggage taking nearly two cars. There were but nineteen able bodied men among them, the balance being wives and children, one couple having ten children with them. Preparations had been made for their coming and it did not take but a short while to house them and get them settled. In addition to these men Mr. Avery use from 150 to 200 more, getting most of his help from the south. As soon as the weather gets fairly settled brick-making will begin in earnest and in the several yards in this vicinity several hundred men will be employed until the weather stops them in the early fall or winter.

THOMAS NASH AVERY (1 January 1837 Highland Falls, NY - 20 September 1914 Matawan, NJ) This history of a country is no longer a record of wars and conquests, but is the account of industrial and commercial development, leading to the upbuilding and progress of various sections, the united forces of which form the prosperity of the nation. Along the Jersey coast are many important industries and among these is numbered that conducted and owned by the Cliffwood Brick Company, of which Thomas N. Avery is the president. Entering upon his business career in a very humble capacity, he steadily worked his way upward and with marked ability has extended the enterprise which has contributed not alone to the individual success of the stockholders, but has in large measure increased the material prosperity of this locality. Mr. Avery was born at Highland Falls, Orange county, New York, January 1, 1837, his parents being King and Hannah (McClellan) Avery. King Avery, the father of our subject, was a loyal soldier of the War of 1812, and his discharge, bearing the date of February 25, 1819, is in the possession of his grandson, James D. Avery. In the common schools of his home district Thomas N. Avery pursued his education, and in early life,-following his inclinations, which seemed to tend in that direction-he learned the carpenter's trade, at which he worked for some time. In 1877 he became interested in the manufacture of brick on the Hudson river, which he has continued subsequently in New Jersey with almost phenomenal success. The excellent clay beds found at many places along the Jersy coast offer splendid opportunities for brick manufacture, and the industry has become a very important one. Mr. Avery purchased a plant owned by Watson Stillwagon, which was then turning out three million bricks annually. under the skillful management of Mr. Avery the output has been increased almost fifteen fold. The increased business is due to two causes, the excellence of the product sent out and the reliability of the company, whose business integrity is never questioned and whose word is as good as any bond that was ever characterized by signature or seal. Of Mr. Avery, the president, it might be said , as it was of Goldsmith's village preacher, that "e'en his failings leaned to virtues side." His honesty is proverbial, and he has never been known to overreach any one even in the smallest business transaction. In 1857 Mr. Avery was united in marriage to Miss Eliza Carroll, and their home was blessed with six children: Catherine who married Charles Carman, secretary of the Clifford [sic] Brick Company; James D.; George, who is now deceased; Grace, the wife of Frank M. Dain, of Peekskill, New York; Thomas, who also has passed away; and Elizabeth, the wife of Dr. H. S. Cooley, of Perth Amboy. Mr Avery and his family attend the services of the Methodist Episcopal church of which he has been a long and faithful member, and for a number of years he has served as trustee. He has never been prominent in political circles, preferring to devote his entire attention to his business interests, in which he has met with very gratifying success. His enterprise and determination have enabled him to overcome all obstacles and difficulties, and his transactions have ever been conducted according to the strictest commercial ethics. His example is certainly well worthy of emulation, and all who know him entertain for him the highest regard.  (William Nelson, Ed., The New Jersey Coast in Three Centuries, History of the New Jersey Coast with Genealogical and Historic-Biographical Appendix (NY and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1902))

The Final Report of the State Geologist, Volume 6, pp 166-167 (New Jersey Geological Survey, 1904) discusses the clays in the area, mentioning the clay pits of the Cliffwood Brick Company, et al. 

The Fauna of the Cliffwood (NJ) Clays, by Stuart Weller of The University of Chicago (The Journal of Geology, 1905) refers to fossils found in the clay pits of the Cliffwood Brick Company.

Contributions to the Mesozoic Flora of the Atlantic Coastal Plain - I, by Edward Wilber Berry (Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, 1906) refers to fossils found in the Cliffwood bluff on Raritan Bay and in the pits of the Cliffwood Brick Company near the head of Whale Creek, New Jersey; and near Morgan on Cheesequake Creek, New Jersey, et al.

The 9 May 1907 edition says the Cliffwood Brick Company built a house near Mr Avery's for the occupancy of Elwood McIlwaine of Matawan, who has worked for the company for several years and will find it very convenient to live much closer to work.

The 20 January 1910 edition says,"Cliffwood was certainly "hard hit" by the blizzard which "bliized" along last Friday. The public highways were blocked in almost all directions and it was only after energetic work on the part of County Road Supervisor Morris, and others, who with gangs of men dug through the deepest drifts, that traffic over them was resumed.

The public school had only three pupils in attendance at its session on Friday, on account of the storm. The
steam road traffic was much delayed while the trolley line was blocked so that no cars ran out of here for several days. Even the Cliffwood Brick Company was forced to shut down for lack of sufficient hands to fill out the ordinary working gang and other causes due to the storm."

The 31 March 1910 edition said, "The masons have completed two new steam dryers in the Cliffwood Brick Company's plant. They are large and have afforded work, when the weather permitted, to mechanics the best part of the winter.

James D Avery, of the Cliffwood Brick Company, has bought a new automobile. He is such a busy man, his neighbors wonder when he will find time to use it. Probably he has bought it for the benefit of some of his friends, of which he has many hereabouts."

Cretaceous Pityoxyla From Cliffwood, New Jersey, by Ruth Holden, references fossils found at the yards of the Cliffwood Brick Company and at Cliffwood Beach. (Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1913)

The 14 May 1914 edition reported a dispute in the Middlesex County courts between the Cliffwood Brick Company and the Rowan family over a valuable piece of land near Cliffwood. The brick company won the case.

The 24 June 1915 edition tells of the death of a foreman with 22 years experience due to a fall while directing work at one of the kilns.

William A. Brand Dies As the Result of Sad Accident Tuesday

William A. Brand of Second Street, Keyport, a foreman at the Cliffwood Brick Company's works in Cliffwood, was fatally injured shortly after 9 o'clock Tuesday morning while in the performance of his duties. Mr. Brand was standing on top of a kiln supervising the burning of brick and directing a number of men at their work when he made a misstep and fell headlong to the ground, a distance of about seventeen feet, his body striking some heavy pieces of timber. In falling he attempted to grasp an iron girder to save himself, but in this he was unsuccessful. Workmen who rushed to his side found him semiconscious and bleeding profusely. He was immediately taken to his home in one of Mr. Avery's automobiles and Drs. H. S. Cooley, and S. H.  Cassidy hastily summoned. They found upon examination that several ribs on the left side had been fractured, both arms broken and a bad gash on the head and his back severely wrenched, and from the first no hope was entertained for his recovery. It was about 9:30 when Mr. Brand was taken to his home and he passed away at 11:40. He suffered great pain but was able to recognize his wife and son and speak to them before he died.

Mr. Brand was a son of the late William A. and Alice Brand and was born fifty-one years ago in Keyport, where he had spent the greater part of his life, except for a few years when he resided in the vicinity of Cliffwood and Morristown. He had been employed at the Cliffwood Brick Works for the past twenty-two years. Mr. Brand was of a genial disposition and was highly esteemed by a wide circle of friends throughout this section who deeply sympathize with the sadly bereaved family.

Besides the widow, Mr. Brand leaves to mourn his untimely death one son, Walter J. Brand, who resides at home, and three sisters— Mrs. Ambrose Marks of Oceanic; Mrs. Abram Hobbs of South Amboy; and Mrs Ennis Johnston of South River.

Funeral services, which will be held at his late residence at 2:30 o'clock tomorrow (Friday) afternoon, will be conducted by Rev. William Adams of Calvary M. E. Church, and Rev. F. T. B. Reynolds, of the Dutch Reformed Church, The deceased was for eighteen years a member of Bayside Lodge, I. O. O. F., of Keyport, and that organization will attend the funeral in a body and conduct the rites of the order at the grave. (Dr Cooley is mentioned in the biography of Thomas Avery above.)

The 5 April 1945 edition contains the obituary of Charles Carman, who worked for the Cliffwood Brick Company from about 1902 until 1925. Until 1902 he had worked in the brick industry in Peekskill, NY. When he died, Mr Carman was thought to be the oldest resident of Matawan at 92 years of age. His wife was Catherine Avery. He is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery. (Charles and Catherine are mentioned in the biography of Thomas Avery above.)

The 21 February 1957 edition tells the story of a rabid dog that terrorized pets and farm animals in the Cliffwood neighborhood around the Cliffwood Brick Company. A man named John Frange shot and killed the dog.

The 3 December 1959 edition says, "James D. Avery of the Cliffwood Brick Company bought the machinery,
etc., on the plant of the Armstrong Brick Company about one mile from Morristown on the Bernardsville road at receiver's sale a short time ago and the tale has been contained by the court. He paid $1100 for it and he has the equipment on his plant now.

The 30 March 1961 edition reports an attempted  organized action by employees of Cliffwood Brick Company. "Seven men employed by the Cliffwood Brick Company on Tuesday demanded an increase of 12 1/2 cents a day in wages and, failing to have their demands complied with, quit their jobs. They remained away only the one day, returning on Wednesday to work at the same pay they had formerly been receiving. The account of the "strike" in some of our exchanges evidently was somewhat exaggerated."


  1. what happened to the brick companys? was 1 behind cooper school in cliffwood beach? did it explode? demolished?

    1. I found a few stray references to Cliffwood Brick Co in the Matawan Journal but no final disposition. Helen Henderson provides no answers in Of Town and Field as far as I can see. One of the news articles I included in this article says someone bought the equipment, but there is no reference to the kilns and what happened to them and when. I doubt it exploded. Perhaps Hurricane Donna? Or it was demolished, razed? Maybe one of my readers knows the answer? The place is rubble now, just a pile of dirt with bricks mixed in, along the Kavanaugh Trail along Whale Creek in CB.

      I'm unfamiliar with the Cooper School in Cliffwood Beach. Tell me more.

      Ms Henderson mentions George Craigen, owner of Craigen Brick Co of Cliffwood. That's on pg 104 of my copy of the above book. That was between 1927 and 1947, but she doesn't say exactly when. I'll have to research that place at some point.