If you aren’t familiar with construction, you might be surprised to learn that there are hundreds and hundreds of styles and colors of bricks. Cherrywood, Old Tavern, Stonegate, Natchez Trace, Chicago Pink, Colonial Grey and many, many more. You might also be surprised that three of the most sought-after styles & colorings were crafted right here in the Birmingham area—here’s what I learned!
Let’s Talk Old Bricks
My grandfather and great-grandfather owned & operated the old Western Auto Supply Co. store in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. Although the company was bought out by a competitor, the original building still stood in downtown Lawrenceburg until a few years ago, when it was demolished. I remember seeing stacks of salvaged brick from the old building, and I thought they were just kept as mementos. But I may have been wrong.
You see, old brick like is pretty valuable. In fact, according to HomeAdvisor, a singular antique brick can go for as much as $10! Generally, antique bricks are more expensive due to their unique coloring, attractive weathering and history. And many antique bricks were created using defunct firing methods, no longer in use today.
That got me thinking—due to Birmingham’s industrial past, there has to be some unique, collectible brick from the Magic City. Here’s what I found.
Old Bessemer Grey, Ensley Old Red & Graves Block
Did you know that three of the most expensive and sought-after bricks in the South were crafted in the Birmingham area? Let’s learn a bit about Old Bessemer Grey, Old Red and Graves Block.
Old Bessemer Grey
I spoke with an employee at Alabama Brick Delivery in Birmingham, who explained that—when they have it—Old Bessemer Grey brick is one of the most expensive bricks they sell. Made from locally-sourced clay and fired on job sites, Old Bessemer Grey is a rare stock of brick made without cooking or baking in a kiln. Since the clay source and firing method are long gone, you can only find salvaged Old Bessemer Grey from demolished buildings.
“Old Red” from Ensley Brick Company
Another rare style is “Old Red” from The Ensley Brick Company, which was established in (you guessed it) Ensley. According to Downtown Ensley & Tuxedo Junction: An Introductory History by Davíd B. Schneider, the Ensley Brick Company was established in 1898 during a period of industrial development in Ensley.
You can find “Old Red”-style bricks from Ensley Brick Co. around town, identifiable by the diamond-shaped “Ensley” stamp on the side. In fact, I found dozens in the sidewalk in the heart of Five Points South.
In 1890, a Tennessee native named William H. Graves moved to Birmingham as a lawyer. Over time, he began to invest in real estate and development in the city. While constructing new buildings, such as the Graves Building in 1904, he organized the Graves Shale Brick Company to source his own building material.
Many Graves Block bricks adorn the Birmingham streets, and some went far beyond the Magic City. In fact, Graves Block bricks made it as far as Florida—this reddit user found a paver in the streets of St. Augustine, the oldest city in America! Nowadays, you can find Graves Block bricks online anywhere from $12 a brick to $70+ on Amazon.
So the next time you wander the streets of Birmingham, or see an old building, check to see what type of brick it’s made of. You might be surprised!