Monday, July 1, 2013

Reeder’s Bricks

Louis Reeder was a Pennsylvania brick and stone mason who came to Helena in 1867 not to mine, but to build. He knew that the community would need fireproof buildings, and that is how he intended to make his fortune. Soon he had a number of contracts, and he saved his money and invested in property. One of these properties was a collection of buildings that spread up a narrow alley. Reeder added to them. Eventually, thirty-two tiny one-room apartments offered miners better living conditions than the log cabins they were used to.

Reader's Alley today
The distinctive red bricks of Reeder’s Alley have been the subject of a persistent myth linking them to artist Charlie Russell. Russell’s family owned the Parker-Russell Mining and Manufacturing Company in St. Louis, Missouri, a leading maker of industrial fire brick. Rumor has it that some of the Reeder’s Alley bricks came by ox team from the Russell Company. Reeder’s Alley, however, contains no fire brick, and there was never a need to import building brick to Helena. By 1866, Nick Kessler was making both building and fire bricks. Industrial fire bricks were used, for example, in lining the lime kilns at the south end of West Main Street. Inspection of the kilns reveals a variety of imported fire brick from Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere, but there are no Parker-Russell bricks in the kilns. There does, however, seem to be some truth to the rumor that Parker-Russell bricks came to Helena. The homeowner of the May Butler House at the end of South Benton Avenue discovered a large stash of unused bricks buried in the yard. These bear the surprising stamp of the Parker-Russell Manufacturing Company.

P.S. Remember this Reeder's Alley prank?