Iowa City, Johnson County, and Eastern Iowa history, as seen through the eyes of postage stamps, postcards, letters, coins, books, and other collectibles.
Our Iowa Heritage: Sylvanus Johnson – Mr. Red Brick.
Here’s Sylvanus Johnson, Iowa City’s first brickmaker.
Johnson was a Connecticut native, born November 12, 1813, who worked in his father’s brickyard before moving to Iowa City. I like to call him Mr. Red Brick since it was his brickyard in Outlot 24 (at the corner of Burlington and Gilbert Streets) that made much of the building material used in the earliest days of The Red Brick Campus.
Johnson was one of Iowa City’s earliest settlers, arriving here in 1839. From his obituary in The Iowa Citizen (January 10, 1902) we find this info…
The Line War (Honey War) Brings Sylvanus Johnson to Iowa City. In truth, settling in Iowa City was not in Sylvanus’ original plans. Author Charles Ray Aurner explains…
1840 – Mr. Red Brick Gets To Work. Once here, Sylvanus got right to work, doing what he knew best, making bricks. He soon set up shop along Gilbert Street just south of Burlington, and his first bricks were made on April 15, 1840, going into a boot store building on Iowa Avenue just west of Dubuque Street. Over the next few decades, Johnson was supplying bricks for every need from chimneys to buildings.
We call him Mr. Red Brick, because his bricks were used in every building built on campus between 1840 and 1875, from the interior walls of Old Capitol, to the Mechanics Academy, to both South and North Hall on University Square.
Sylvanus Johnson Was More Than Just Bricks.
When Sylvanus married his Connecticut sweetheart, Emily Bradley, in 1845, he had already been purchasing large pieces of land north of Iowa City in order to supply adequate firewood for his brick-making furnaces. By 1847, he owned 600 acres and built a beautiful home there which still stands today (see pic below).