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Landscaping with a Hobby

Story ID:517
Written by:Gail Lee Martin (bio, contact, other stories)
Organization:Kansas Authors Club
Story type:Only Here
Location:El Dorado Kansas USA
Person:Danny Lewis
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Landscaping with a Hobby

Landscaping with a Hobby

Landscaping with a Hobby

Landscaping with a Hobby

Landscaping with a Hobby

It is a common sight in Kansas to see a lot of architecture constructed with bricks. So many buildings both inside and out; public and private sidewalks; bridges, plant boxes, walls, patios, older highways and streets have been built with bricks that they seem ordinary. Then I found an El Dorado brick collector, Danny Lewis, who uses his extensive collection of bricks to landscape the back yard of his yellow wood and brick home built in 1981.

Mr. Lewis gave me a guided tour through his haven of bricks that include prize bricks with designs, dates, names, geographical location of brick manufactures or slogans. My granddaughter, Kristy Duggan, with her trusty camera and I enjoyed the tour as much as Danny did. It was a hot, sunny day in July of 1994 when we were shown his most special brick that had been personally inscribed with the words BRICK & GARDEN, DANNY & MARY JANE LEWIS, EL DORADO, KANSAS. Harold Larson of Hoisington had presented this brick to the Lewises several years ago in honor of their landscaping efforts.

Relaxing on his patio Danny, as he asked us to call him, gave interesting details on his more than fifteen hundred various bricks. He knows as much about each brick as most people know about their children. Danny informed us that Mr. Larsen, a modern day brick maker specializing in making personalized bricks and commemoratives is a part of a growing new art in modern brick manufacturing.

On the south end of the Lewis’s tree-shaded, western porch was a large windbreak made with a upright, wooden, double-sided partition filled with more than hundred 'one of a kind' bricks from all over Kansas. I saw many paving bricks such as a CAPTIAL CITY brick from Topeka and Ft. SCOTT BLOCK brick from the brick plant built in that eastern Kansas town in 1895. This plant closed it doors in 1929 but in it’s time had provided bricks for the first Indianapolis 500-Speedway and sent fifty million bricks for the construction of the Panama Canal.

Paving bricks are heavier and many have grids across the surface for extended usage we were informed. Many of the bricks represented towns across the state and varied from a Pittsburg brick with the name of the manufacturing plant NESCH printed on it to a LUMBERMEN brick from Carlyla and a DICKY STANDARD from Kansas City.

Reading inscriptions in this brick display I recognized familiar Kansas town names of Neodesha, Coffeyville, Caney, Cherryvale, Altoona, Weir, Fredonia, Concordia, Lawrence, Tyro, lola, Independence and Peru among others. I observed a DON'T SPIT ON SIDEWALK brick that was made famous in Kansas by Dr. Crumbine in his effort to eradicate tuberculosis. The Coffeyville Daily Journal issue of 9/12/1958 printed an interview with Charles Gentner who remembered he had been plant superintendent of the Coffeyville Vitrified Brick and Tile Company when the decision was made to turn out this controversial health brick in 1902. Close-by was a very rare buff-colored brick from BLUFFVILLE and an equally rare CLAY CENTER, both are hard to find because they were made of soft brick that didn't withstand Kansas weather.

Then Danny pointed to the coveted COLUMBUS/KANSAS Sunflower brick obtained through a trading session at a brick meet. In 1976 the town of Columbus noticed their Sunflower bricks were disappearing from their city streets so the police were asked to watch out for bricknappers. We were also shown a brick that Danny had enhanced by painting the double sunflowers in their natural colors. Then I asked about an odd brick with just three letters KSP. Danny explained KSP stood for Kansas State Prison and were hand carved in the soft brick.

In the early days Coffeyville had at least six brick plants and made so many different kinds that Danny has a special section on the north fence of their property just for them. One of his most prized Coffeyville bricks is printed YOKE VIT. BRICK CO. including a picture of a yoke like that used with oxen in covered wagon days. Another had the name COFFEYVILLE spelled out with each letter in a different section of a set pattern of squares. In all there are over sixty different Coffeyville bricks on display.

Another section on the north fence features over thirty BUFFALO bricks all different. There was even one with the word BUFFALO printed along the edge. While still at the north fence we found an array of Missouri bricks from our neighboring state to the east and the last section of this fence, that provides privacy as well as serving as a windbreak, held about forty Oklahoma bricks.

Highlighting this group was a LEWIS BRICK CO. brick that Danny received from his good friend, Luke Robinson of Midwest City, Oklahoma, who had been quick to see the opportunity of some good trading with a brick with that name. Two Oklahoma bricks of Danny's have become real collector items because of their age as well as the significant of their initials. One is I.T. standing for Indian Territory, the other is O.T. for Oklahoma Territory.

As you stroll along the maze of brick walks and paths Danny will inform you that the bricks you are walking on are from old streets of Newton and from highway #54 east of Augusta that he acquired when the bricks were removed and replaced with paving. Down through the middle of the yard are several raised beds for garden produce and flowers filled with more than 150 annual and perennial plants surrounded with borders of named bricks.

Some extra special bricks have found a neat home that is camouflaging a wooden shed in the back corner. Very noticeable next to the bottom shelf is DANIEL. Then a VAN SANT, 1884 BRICK, SUMMIT BRICK, 1876 PUEBLO; followed by more commemorative's: LARRABEE, IOWA, 100-YEARS 1987; CAYCUGA, INDIANA, 100 YEARS 1884-1984 and the ROYALS. Local interest emerged with a BUTLER COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE brick including our Junior college's mascot, The Grizzly beside an EL DORADO HIGH SCHOOL WILDCAT brick.

Other bricks in this section were KANSAS STATE UNIVERSARY, a 1941 PITTSBURG, Danny's alma mater and the date of his graduation. There was a brick with an old logo of PHILLIPS 66 that I'd like to own as my father worked for them over 30 years. One brick brought a chuckle to our guide and we were quick to add our laughter when we beheld a brick stamped, DON'T SPIT ON BRICK COLLECTION. Nearby were bricks titled COCA COCLA and PEPSI everybody's favorite drinks.

La Crosse, Kansas is noted for its barb-wire collection and when some of those collectors began adding bricks to their hobby it was a natural for Harold Larsen to create a commemorative for them LA CROSSE, KANSAS,1971 imprinted with three different barb-wire designs.

The Larsen commemoratives take on every imaginable subject with Christmas ones making a bright spot among so much brick color. There were SEASONS GREETINGS bordered with green holly and MERRY CHRISTMAS with a swag of greenery and red berries. Many of these Holiday bricks were highlighted with red poinsettia’s, colorful candles or bells and are dated and signed. Danny has been receiving these unusual Christmas cards close to ten years. Wonder what it costs to mail one?

Just below the Christmas bricks is a row of five or six bricks that have to be set in a row to be appreciated as each brick depicts a part of the first train to cross the cast-iron Kansas/Missouri railroad bridge over the Missouri River at Fort Leavenworth in 1872. The old-time engine and train-cars are reminiscence of travel 134 years ago.

There are many novelty brick items in this garden landscape such as a set of twelve calendar bricks, one for each month of the year 1982. Not far away a Virginia creeper is winding over a brick size set of double six dominoes. Anyone ready for a game?

Many of Danny's self-standing brick racks are double sided, so you need to travel this way and then that way to see them all. The racks stand higher than your head but still within easy reach to examine each specimen in his collection. I found on a lower shelf some odd shape bricks and others with distinct pattern and Danny explained they were designer bricks, used by banks and other business to make their place of business unique and fancier.

The south fence is also covered with rare bricks and Danny explained he collects for quality not quantity. One intriguing section is filled with bricks depicting nature with birds, windmills, butterflies and many different flowers. Through Danny's years of swapping or trading he has located a few brick bloopers or mistakes made during brick production. He is gradually building a small collection of these odd bricks.

It would be easier to name the states that Danny doesn't have in his ever growing collection than all the states that he does have a brick from. He even has bricks from foreign places, England, Mexico and a special SNOWBALL from Scotland that found it way to America as ballast of a ship that sailed around the horn. This type of treasure is what takes brick collectors to brick shows or meets year after year.

Danny belongs to the International Brick Collectors Association (IBCA), he joined in 1988 after seeing a TV news segment one evening featuring Jim Graves, IBCA librarian. That show inspired Danny and he attends brick meets each year, one in the mid-west and one back east. These meets are usually hosted by cities that have close ties to brick plants. Last June Danny went to the De Moines, Iowa meet with 25 trading bricks and came back with that many new bricks for his collection.

True collectors seldom buy or sell. Trading is the name of the game in brick collecting. I wonder how many other brick collectors have landscaped their yard with their collection? Can you guess what I gave Danny for Christmas that year? It was a brick decorated by my daughter Shannon. It stands on end and looks like Santa Claus.