Hometown Heroes: Recreating Savannah Grey brick

Updated: Mar. 29, 2017 at 5:17 PM EDT
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(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah Grey brick has been called the most sought-after brick in the South, but they aren't making it anymore, and haven't for more than a century.

But, that might change. A group of Savannah Tech students have recently learned the process of how to make the bricks straight out of Savannah's past. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty to reach back into history.

The students have been playing in the mud this week; making it, throwing it, and forming it into shapes to recreate something out of Savannah's past that remains coveted yet unavailable today.

"It is very conceivable,'' said Benjamin Curran, head of Savannah Tech's Historic Preservation Department, "that this could be the first bake of Savannah Grey bricks in over 100 years.''

Jason Whitehead, an expert brick maker from Colonial Williamsburg, was commissioned to teach Savannah Tech's Historic Preservation class how to make Savannah Grey brick, the popular construction product of the 1800s that can still be seen on some Downtown Savannah buildings but is viewed locally as architectural gold.

"The color is something that the product of the clay made it fairly unique,'' said Whitehead. "It's not something you're going to see anywhere else because of the geology and how the clay layers are formed in this part of the country just gave you a different look to the brick.''

The students returned to a process long ago replaced by industrialization and factory-made bricks, beginning with hand-making the kiln in which the handmade bricks were fired. They also brought back something that is as much a part of Savannah's soul as it's scenery.

"I love historic preservation,'' said Roy Patterson, one of the students in the class. "Every time my wife and I go downtown, I'm the one looking at the buildings and she has to drive.''

"In the end, if we make Savannah Grey brick, that becomes a resource for the community,'' added Whitehead. "And if we do this more and more and get better and better at it, then it becomes a product that can be used by the community.''

The 500 bricks made this week will stay with Savannah Tech and Lebanon Plantation, which hosted the brick making, but it's also possible one of these WTOC Hometown Heroes reproducing history could possibly restart it here as well.

"We're in not in the business of production, we're in the business of education,'' said Curran. "So, ultimately, my hope would be that one of the students goes through this experience and goes out and starts a business of their own. So, if we can act as a catalyst for small business development that's far more efficient than us trying to fill the need.''

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