Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wilbar Brick Company of Gordon, Texas

John T.O. Wilbar owned and operated the Wilbar Brick Plant in Gordon, Texas (located in Southern Palo Pinto County) from approximately 1888 to 1906. His operation predated all area brick making, occurring well before nearby Thurber started making their famous bricks.

John Thomas Octavius Wilbar was born on May 28, 1853 in Wilkes, NC to Isaac Russell and Rachel Colvard Wilbar. The family migrated to Texas in about 1879 and to Gordon by the mid 1880s. John initially settled in Duffau, TX (north of Hico) and served for a brief time as a school teacher there. Upon arriving in the Gordon area he initially took a job as postmaster for Coalville. During this time Mr. Wilbar either purchased or built a cotton gin and successfully took advantage of Gordon’s booming crop of the day.

Around 1888, as the need for solid (fire proof) building products increased, John built a brick making outfit next door to his gin. The brick plant and kilns (a total of seven) would have been located a couple of blocks south of the current Methodist Church to the east of the present day highway. The shale used for the bricks came from a hill due west of the plant (across the current road). A pulley rail car system was used to bring the shale down the mountain. When a full car went down the hill it pulled the empty car back up. At that time the only road leaving town to the south was what is now known as Mitchell Hill road, so crossing a road wasn't an issue for the shale cars.

The kilns used were roughly 10 to 20 feet high and about 70 feet long and were wood burning. The bricks made at the Wilbar plant were of the dry pressed variety and were most suitable for use in building construction. It has been documented that Wilbar Bricks have been found in various cities in north Texas over the years. Some of Gordon’s buildings downtown and underpinnings on various old homes are made of these bricks as well.
When gas became available in 1906, Mr. Wilbar made the decision to switch to the more modern fuel. The kilns were all fitted for the new fuel and an initial batch was fired. Unfortunately the bricks became too hot and fused together in massive blocks, rendering all of the kilns ruined. This disaster spelled the end of Wilbar Brick production. Mr. Wilbar continued to gin cotton until a fire destroyed his gin in January of 1907. He left Gordon in 1918 and relocated to San Antonio where he died on October 24, 1923.

NOTE: John Wilbar's brother Alexander P. Wilbar founded the First National Bank of Gordon in 1901, helping to make the Wilbar family one of the most influential families on early day Gordon.

The Three Bills of Thurber, Texas

Left to Right: J.W. Ivey, J.W. Gailey Sr, and W.T. Fulfer in downtown Thurber (ca 1917)

The T&P Coal Company that owned and operated Thurber generally strove to run a self sufficient town but sometimes it had to lean on area farmers and ranchers to meet its needs. This was the case when the need arose for a new source of beef cattle in about 1900.

T&P Coal awarded a cattle supply contract to a partnership consisting of three local cattlemen, John William Gailey, John William Ivey, and William Thomas Fulfer. The three men became known as “The Three Bills” to their customers. The contract indicated that they needed to supply 50 head of cattle by each Friday for slaughter. This demand required the partnership to travel great distances at times to purchase cattle.

The Three Bills would become very popular with their customers for maintaining a reputation of fairness and honesty. They had a policy of not making a profit from widowed women and if a rancher quoted a price that was too low they would give them a more reasonable price for their stock. J.W. Gailey, who essentially lead the group, became known as “Uncle Bill” to many of his clients due to his fair dealings.

This business venture proved to be very profitable for the three men. All three were able to live well supporting their large families and expand their ranches considerably. JW Gailey was able to expand his ranch into Erath County stretching from the road south of Thurber westward to present day Highway 16. After purchasing his Erath County land he build his family a larger home, which still stands 110 years later.

NOTE: This photo started my interest into family history. I was looking through a Palo Pinto County history book back in 1992 (as a high school freshman) and ran across the image. Noticing the name J.W. Gailey below the photo I figured that the man must be related. I sent a copy of the photo to my grandmother, Dovie Gailey Hunt, and she was elated to see it. She shared with me that he was indeed her grandfather and sent copies of the photo to several relatives in the family. This of course led to more questions from me and over time I wanted to find out everything I could about J.W. Gailey and his family. For years we only had a grainy copy of this photo from the book and it wasn’t until I started working on the Gailey book that I was sent a much clearer copy from the MC and Edna Fry collection, which is the source of this version of the photo.