Mount Savage Enamel Brick Co.
Cumberland Times-News March 29,2000
STORY BY: Allison Bunting
Iron ore, coal and clay were the key ingredients in the founding of the town of Mount Savage. In order to melt the iron into rails, local clay, found to be of superior quality, was used to make bricks to line the furnaces. Local coal was burned for fuel.
"It's a fabulous history," said Robert Rost, owner of Mount Savage Fire Bricks in Zihlman, the present location for the brick operation that was located in Mount Savage until 1987.
"It made Mount Savage the premier industrial site in the country," said Rost. "Mount Savage and the complex that was there, they call it the beginning of the industrial revolution. They had 600 people employed in that complex."
"They had to get the rails to the market. The railroad hadn't even reached Cumberland, so New York Coal and Mine built its own to Cumberland, used its own rail stock. It was the very beginning in the history of the American railroad."
The first iron rail in the United States was rolled in Mount Savage in 1844, according to a plaque that has been placed on a wall to the right of the Green Arrow Restaurant. Remains of the smoke stacks from the brick and iron works also can be seen there.
Betty Van Newkirk, Frostburg historian, said there were numerous brick plants in Mount Savage since the mid-1800s.
Perhaps the most memorable was The Mount Savage Enamel Brick Co., founded by Andrew Ramsay, formerly of Scotland, and four other local men. Property was acquired from the Union Mining Co., a firebrick operation, which also supplied the clay for the enamel brick works.
Ramsay invented a process for applying glaze to bricks in a single firing process, a secret that he took to his grave. These bricks, which came in various shapes and colors, were considered the finest and most durable in the country. They were shipped all over the Western Hemisphere.
Their uses included lining tunnels and subways. Three houses in Mount Savage are made of the enamel bricks. The bricks also can be seen in the old National Bank, in the old jail and on several storefronts. The enamel bricks were used to line chimneys in the town, with the glazed side facing in, because their smooth quality prevented the accumulation of soot and made cleaning easy.
Although Ramsay was a legendary figure, there is no accurate information available about his appearance, said Van Newkirk' in an article she wrote in 1979 for the Journal of the Alleghenies.
"He has been described by people who knew him as 'a stocky little Scotsman,' and as a tall imposing figure who weighed at least 220 pounds; as having a fine head of white hair, and as being not yet gray at the time of his death.
"Some people found him warm and affable, but others reported that he walked around Mount Savage carrying a buggy whip which he did not hesitate to flick at the toes of anyone who approached too close to him," she writes.
Ramsay bought a stone residence in Mount Savage, and expanded and remodeled it after the Craig Castle in Scotland. It had terraces, a carriage house, stable, tennis court and formal gardens which Ramsay tended himself. The wine cellar in The Castle is lined with enamel brick.
Van Newkirk said The Castle was heated with excess heat given off by the kilns from the brickyards.
After many years of prosperity, the enamel brick business began to dwindle.
"It is hard to say when the family fortunes began to go downhill," writes van Newkirk. "There is no doubt that Andrew Ramsay spent lavishly on The Castle and its grounds, and on a style of living in keeping with these surroundings.
"For a number of years the income from the enamel brick seems to have kept pace with his spending, but it wasn't long before he was obviously living beyond his means.
"Some people feel that his big mistake was attempting to make bathroom fixtures in competition with Crane and American Standard and Kehler. While his glazed clay product was cheaper than vitreous china, it was also heavier to handle and more apt to crack or chip.
"Furthermore, these corporations had the advantage of national advertising and bulk sales and could cut prices to force him out of the market."
In the 1920s, much of Ramsay's property was mortgaged, including The Castle. When the stock market crashed, Union Mining Co. took over the brickyard at Mount Savage. Ramsay died in Ohio in 1932. Today, The Castle is a bed and breakfast inn.
Most of the old brick and iron complex is torn down. The eastern side of the brickyards has been sold to Bill Miller. The other side, where the enamel brick operations were, has been sold, and a post office is being built there.
There is one refractory plant still in operation on Old Row in Mount Savage since 1975.
Mount Savage Specialty Refractories, co-owned by the Rost family and Jerry Zawatski, makes high-temperature lining materials for molten-metal holding vessels and incinerators, according to Craig Felton, director of technical services.
Mount Savage Enamel Brick Co.
FACTS and HISTORY
YEARS OF OPERATION: 1896-1928
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 50
FOUNDER: Andrew Ramsey with J. Sheridan, J. Findlay, H. McMullin & W. Delano
LOCATION: Rt. 36, Mount Savage
REASON FOR CLOSING: Lavish Living & spending, competition
PRESENT SITE: Post office