by the Merrickville and District Historical Society
As you drive towards Easton’s Corners on highway 16, just between Allan’s Tool Shed and Wolford Public School, look on the left side of the road. There you will see a sign erected by the McGrath family marking the historic site of the former Wickware brickyard and tannery. The tannery is thought to have been in operation as early as the 1820’s, and the brickyard from 1860 to 1910. You can also see the tanning stone beside the sign, standing in approximately the same spot by Barber Creek where it was used nearly 200 years ago.
From the beginning, the history of the McGrath property has been fascinating. Henry and Richard Arnold were sons of American Revolutionary War “traitor” (in the eyes of the Americans), Benedict Arnold. Each son was given a British Crown grant of 1,200 acres in Wolford township in recognition of his father’s patriotism.
The story of the McGrath property begins around 1802, when pioneer settler, Benjamin Barber, purchased from Henry Arnold the 200 acres of property which constituted Lot 20, Concession 2, Wolford. Barber settled and farmed the property, giving his name to Barber Creek and Barber Road. The industrial era of the property began in 1819 when Benjamin Barber sold a small 1½ acre corner lot to Stephen McEathron, who probably established and operated the first tannery on the property, subsequently passing its operation to Charles Wickware (pronounced Wickwire).
Upon Barber’s death in 1823, his land, except for the 1½ acre lot, was divided into four 50-acre parcels, one for each of his sons. While the Barbers worked the land, the Wickwares developed and expanded the tannery business on the small corner lot. Eventually, the enterprising Wickware family acquired three of the four Barber sections, and, by 1861, had added a brickyard to the tannery operation. Many of the homes and institutions in the district display the fine “white” bricks produced at the Wickware brickyard. Produced from white clay from a hill on the farm beside Barber Creek, the white bricks were considered of superior lasting quality to red brick and a major improvement over rough stone. They were used on prestigious buildings such as the church and schoolhouse at Easton’s Corners and many homes in the area built in the 1860s.
If you suspect they were used in your house, the next time you are doing masonry repairs, check the bricks. Proud of the quality of their product, the Wickwares stamped each brick with the initials FBW: Francis Byron Wickware, son of the brickyard founder, Philip Wickware.
Because of their durability, bricks such as the white bricks of Wolford, stand out as reminders of the industry of the pioneers in this area. But if your bricks are not yellow, but red and marked MKL, they came from Merrickville’s own brickyard owned by Michael Keeler Lang. It was located on what is now County Road 43, just east of the railway overpass. The proximity of the two brickyards to their respective communities in the 1860’s probably explains the preponderance of red brick in homes in Merrickville and the white (yellow) bricks of the Easton’s Corners and Jasper homes.
It also perhaps explains why so many of the finer red brick homes in the Merrickville area display ornamental yellow brick coins and details. Not only a pleasing appearance, but a statement that the owner could afford to “import” the fine white Wickware bricks from Easton’s Corners, if not for his whole house, at least as a badge of prosperity. In an apparent flaunting of affluence, or maybe an indication of a disagreement with a neighbour, one of the two totally white brick homes in Merrickville is located on the west side of the railway underpass, almost across the road from the former Lang brickyard. When the use of the two bricks was combined with the Flemish bond coursing, a truly distinctive statement was made. Such was the case with the fine Georgian home built by Rideau Settlement surveyor John Burchill in the Village in 1861. Our history is literally built into these old homes