St. Joe Brick Works Has Family Foundations | News from the community of St. Tammany

In 1895, German bricklayer Peter W. Schneider acquired St. Joe Brick Works, a small business nestled in what was then the desert of southern Louisiana.

The small brick factory had been founded four years earlier by Joseph McCarron, an Irish immigrant called “St. Joe.” When the owner changed, the name didn’t change, nor much else at the brickyard just off US 11 in Pearl River.

St. Joe Brick Works Inc. has remained under the auspices of the Schneider family for 130 years. It continues to operate the old-fashioned way, using a soft mud process in which clay is formed in wooden molds to create individual bricks, as was done during the early colonial period. Many of the company’s bricks bear the distinctive “St. Joe’s inscription.”

Last month, the brick business received the St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce’s Legacy Award, which is presented annually to a thriving business with a long-term commitment to preserving the integrity and character of the parish. But St. Joe’s left an imprint that stretches far beyond the North Shore, its product serving as the foundation for famous structures across the country.

The bricks made at the factory near Pearl River are often specified by architects whose projects demand the aesthetic appeal and character of materials that are not mass produced.

St. Joe Bricks can be found on the historic sidewalks of New Orleans, on the campuses of LSU in Baton Rouge and Rice University in Houston, in the Atlanta Botanical Garden and in other notable buildings as well. far than Massachusetts and New York. They have also been used in churches, hospitals, and museums, including the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the historic Fort Jefferson off the tip of Key West, Florida, which is the largest masonry structure in bricks of the Americas.

“In the life of this company we have made one billion six hundred and twenty-five million bricks, to within a few million,” said Pete Schneider III, who, along with other members of the Schneider family, currently operates the brickyard. “Isn’t that phenomenal? We have been in business for 130 years.

Throughout its history, little has changed in the long and painstaking process used to make St. Joe’s bricks. Since the turn of the 20th century, the company has purchased “machines” to boost its production efforts. But this most recent acquisition was made in 1955 and did not significantly change the foundation of the brick making process.

Most modern brick factories make their products using the extrusion process, which forces low moisture clay through a die that forms holes and produces wire cut faces. The holes reduce their weight and cost. Using this process, a modern brickyard can make up to a million bricks per day.

St. Joe’s bricks are made by pressing mineral-rich Southeast Louisiana clay into individual wooden molds at very high pressure. Their popular coloring is the result of a baking process in which the product is fired in massive brick kilns where the fire heats up to around 25,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

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“Our product is the tallest refractory brick in the world,” said Schneider.

Schneider currently runs the plant with his brother Chris and son Pete IV, the company’s director of distribution. St. Joe is one of five brickyards in the United States that still makes its product this old fashioned way. The factory can make about 30,000 bricks a day, a fraction of what modern factories produce, and the Schneiders have no plans to change the traditional methods used.

“They (modern factories) can make a million bricks a day,” said Pete Schneider III. “But they don’t have the instant character or antiquity that a St. Joe’s brick does.”

St. Joe Brick Works is the epitome of a family business. Over the past few generations, most of the Schneider family grew up working in the brickyard, and many eventually found their way into the business full time. The company’s legacy is illustrated by a photo hanging in the company’s office. It shows Peter W. Schneider, the great-grandfather of the current owners, sitting in a chair surrounded by his five sons, whom he trained to make bricks.

In their minds, the Schneider brothers were not originally considered to be brick makers. Pete’s goal was to become an actor and singer, and Chris loved music. Their father died in 1977 at the age of 50 when Pete was 24 and Chris 19. Much like the character of George Bailey in the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Pete put aside his initial ambitions and went on to took over the family business. Chris eventually joined him and life continued in the family brickyard.

Pete Schneider III served in the state legislature from 1992-2008, often making laws by day and bricks by night, while Chris Schneider was ordained a Catholic deacon in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2012. Assigned to St. Margaret Mary’s Parish in Slidell, he serves at masses, presides over funerals, and performs baptisms when not helping to make embossed bricks with the celestial nickname.

The brothers said demand for St. Joe’s bricks remains high, a demand that has created stress for the brickyard, which, like many other businesses, is struggling with an ongoing shortage of workers. Fifteen workers are needed to run the plant, but at the end of November, St. Joe had only nine.

The situation is almost intolerable, but it has highlighted the never-say-nothing spirit of the small family business that has endured through the generations.

“At some point these days, you might have six Schneiders in the 15-person crew,” Pete said. “This is how we are small.”

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