Who made the “LACLEDE KING” brick: The answer

Submitted by Dick Brunelle (rfbdick@yahoo.com)

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Editor’s Note

Back in late March 2009, GAAS and SGA member Dick Brunelle issued a challenge to thesga.org readers. He had read a January Weekly Ponder on a Copeland-Inglis brick found in an Atlanta brick street, and responded by asking who made the brick he had photographed at Hills and Dales, the Callaway family home in LaGrange, which had “LACLEDE KING” stamped on it. As a tease, he noted: The brick is more closely related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition than it is to covered bridges in Georgia. Member Jim D’Angelo was the only one to log in and comment on these brick controversies, among other things noting that he has a biography of John Randolph Copeland (1863-1935), partner in Copeland-Inglis Brick company. Now, Mr. Brunelle reveals the whoe story behind that enigmatic brick….

The answer…
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Laclede Fire Brick Company as it appeared in 1854. On the hill behind the plant, can be seen the old Sublette mansion and nearby buildings of the sulphur springs resort. Clay was mined between the plant and the mansion.

The Birthplace of the Laclede King Brick

Bridge builder Horace King practiced his craft up and down the Chattahoochee River before and after his emancipation from slavery. The Townsend Truss structures he specialized in building required solid piers of durable material. Knowing he headed a family enterprise, brick making did not seem beyond possibility for this one time resident of LaGrange, Georgia.

At least, this is what I thought when I spotted the Laclede King brick at the beautiful estate of Hills and Dales in LaGrange. However, a search of Horace King family members did not come up with anyone named Laclede. Casting my net over the Internet, I fished up one Pierre Laclede Liquest.

We find that this enterprising man, a native of France, came to New Orleans in 1755. Soon, he dropped the Pierre from his name and his associates dropped the Liquest. This sort of name dropping was common among the early French in Louisiana. Laclede married an unattached woman in New Orleans, who was also enterprising and had accumulated money trading furs and other goods. She had previously been married to Auguste Rene Chouteau, and her son Auguste was now Laclede’s stepson. To further complicate an already confusing family relationship, stepson Auguste Chouteau had a half brother named Pierre. Some surmise he was a son of Laclede, but he was called Pierre Chouteau.

Laclede supposedly obtained trading rights from the last French governor for all the territory along the Missouri River. He and his stepson Auguste Chouteau established a trading post that Laclede named St Louis in April 1764 in honor of King Louis IX. Between the time he first set foot there, at the end of 1763, and the time of his death in 1788, Laclede had built up his name enough to bequeath it to things both material and political. As we now suspect, this includes bricks.

But, how can the name on our brick be close to Lewis and Clark? This clue was mainly intended to get the ponderer in the correct geographical area. However, both Chouteaus could not get any closer to William Clark than they did in September of 1797. Clark had been across the river trying to gather information to help out his older brother George Rogers Clark, who was in deep doo-doo for spending too much government money embarrassing the British while venturing into their territory.

Feeling the urge to party, William went to St Louis to scope out the town. There, he had a ball (literally) at Pierre Chouteau’s place with “all the fine girls and buckish Gentleman.” Now that they were drinking buddies, Clark would not forget his new friends when he came back across the river years later with Meriwether Lewis. The Spanish governor would not allow the Corps of Discovery to come ashore, but did accept a courtesy visit from Clark, who used the occasion to affirm his friendship in an aside with Auguste Chouteau. Meriwether Lewis used what influence he had to get Pierre Chouteau appointed Agent of Indian Affairs for Upper Louisiana in 1804.

The Chouteau brothers had considerable economic and political clout to go with their immense knowledge of the country and inhabitants of the Missouri and points west. It would take all of this to compete with the companies and political entities trying to control trade with the Indian nations. In turn, the Chouteau brothers made alliances with groups and individuals they deemed most capable to meet the challenges. One of these was William L. Sublette, previously a competitor. He became “their man on the ground” to deal with the most dangerous situations. Bill Sublette used shrewd strategy and good business ability, along with superior frontier skills, to stay alive and come out ahead.

After he gave up mountain man life, it would be Bill who would become owner of the ground that would one day yield the clay for our Laclede brick. Surprisingly, Bill aspired to create his own little utopia close to the city of St Louis, rather than live in Big Sky country. He chose a pleasing valley with a sulphur spring and “a river runs through it.” The “clear crystal stream” was called “River Des Peres”. This piece of property just happened to once belong to the husband of Auguste and Pierre’s sister Victoire Chouteau, Charles Gratiot, who had received it in a Spanish land grant of about 8000 acres.

In 1835, Bill had several log cabins and a large stone manor built on his 779 acre arcadia sanctuary. Sublette immediately put into play a gentleman farmer economy; exploiting natural resources of the property. Along with agricultural, livestock, and lumbering operations, mining of coal and clay was started. As it turned out, the clay was found to be the best in the country for making firebrick.

Gratiot’s son Paul had a fire brick kiln as early as 1837. We do not know, however, if Bill Sublette himself did anything but mine the clay. Soon, Bill’s arcadia had a menagerie of Wild West animals and a sulphur springs health resort for 60 boarders. Sadly, the healing waters did not restore health to Bill during an illness; so, he sought help in the East, but died in a Pittsburg, Pennsylvania hotel during his travels, on July 23, 1845.

William L. Sublette’s earthly remains were brought from Pittsburg and interred on his estate.

Soon, another utopia seeker was on the move in the person of Etienne Cabet. A French experimenter in communal living, he coined the word communisme; which became communism. Called the Icarian Movement, he lead his followers to found a colony in America; first in the Texas Red River Valley, then to the recently vacated haven of Brigham Young in Nauvoo, Illinois. Alas, Arcadia was not found there. The fragmented Icarians that still followed Cabet moved on to St Louis; but Cabet died at the end of 1856.

The remaining Icarians struggled on and in two years bought Sublette’s place, which was then on the block. Ironically, unhealthy conditions at the health resort were one reason that the colony to disbanded. Even more ironic, Bill Sublette’s mortal remains could not stay because of the demand for clay around the cemetery that contained them. Forced out at the point of a shovel, Bill’s remains were moved to Bellefontaine Cemetery in St Louis city in 1868.

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Resting on 80 acres of land close by, Laclede Fire Brick Manufacturing Company was inhaling clay from the old Sublette Estate and exhaling an array of brick products. Thus, neither William Sublette nor Etienne Cabet found a final resting place in that place first called Sulphur Springs, then Cheltenham, and finally Dogtown.

However, one brick made from the clay of that place rests in the garden walk of a little arcadia created by the Callaway family in LaGrange, Georgia, where it proclaims to all that take notice: Laclede Brick is King!