Historical society program focuses on pioneer brick maker
Elmer Taylor built Kirtland kiln after moving to area at age of 17
FARMINGTON — The contributions of a man who helped change the face of San Juan County brick by brick will be presented Wednesday when 19th century mason and brick manufacturer Elmer Franklin Taylor is profiled in a San Juan County Historical Society program.
The presentation will be delivered by the husband-and-wife team of Tom and Bev Taylor at their Artifacts Gallery in downtown Farmington. Tom Taylor is the grandson of Elmer Taylor, who owned and operated a Kirtland brick kiln after moving to San Juan County in 1888. Over the next several decades, he wound up producing hundreds of thousands of bricks that were used to construct dozens of local structures, many of which remain standing today and that he helped build.
The program is an extended version of a presentation that Bev Taylor made last year for a women's study group that has been active in Farmington since 1955. The group picks a different topic to examine each year — subjects have ranged from both world wars and the French Revolution to explorers and inventors to food — and each member then selects a sub-topic, researches it in depth and delivers a presentation for the other members.
The group's topic for last year was local history, and Bev said she knew immediately she wanted to focus on Elmer Taylor's brickmaking operation for her area of specialization. When she gave her presentation, she delivered it in the home she and Tom built, which was partially constructed from bricks manufactured by Elmer Taylor that they salvaged from other structures in the area.
Historical society president Patty Tharp, also a member of the study group, was so impressed that she asked Bev to deliver the presentation again, this time for a historical society audience. Bev agreed to do so, but on Wednesday, she'll be doing it with the assistance of her husband, who is putting together a display of brick-making equipment to serve as visual aids.
Bev said Elmer Taylor was only 17 when he came to San Juan County from Moab, Utah. But it didn't take long before he constructed his Kirtland kiln and began to turn out the bricks that would be used in commercial structures and homes all over the county. He also was a skilled mason, and his labor contributed to the building of many of the area's notable early structures, including the original First National Bank Building, the Hunter Mercantile Company building, the Mormon chapel in Kirtland and the Navajo Methodist Mission.
Elmer died in 1953 — too early for Bev to meet him, while Tom has only a few memories of his grandfather. But when the two were students together at the University of New Mexico, they took an architecture history class together in which they were required to choose an unknown historic structure somewhere in the state and chronicle its history and chart its specifics. That information then would be submitted to the state historical society to help build a catalog of historic buildings in New Mexico.
Tom's father, Merrill, suggested the couple focus on an Elmer Taylor structure, and they quickly settled on a dilapidated, abandoned home in Kirtland that was being used as a cow barn.
"Merrill knew for a fact that his dad had built the house and laid up the brick for it," Bev said, describing the structure as a "lovely old turn-of-the-century house," despite the fact it had been allowed to fall into disrepair.
The young couple spent days measuring and recording the structure's dimensions and researching its history, a project that decades later would give Bev a pronounced head start on her study group project.
The abandoned house later burned down, but when Bev and Tom got married and decided to build their own home here, they purchased and salvaged many of the bricks from the ruined structure, and used them for their new home. When they ran short of bricks for the second story of the new house, they got out one of Elmer's old brick molds, got Merrill to show them how to do it, and manufactured 7,000 bricks of their own in two weeks to complete their supply.
"So we have firsthand knowledge of all this," Bev said, laughing.
A question-and-answer session will wrap up the Taylors' presentation. Bev said she hopes to receive feedback from other descendants of Elmer, who had 13 children, or those who might have details about his work or operation. She acknowledged there might be a few holes in her research and welcomes new information.
"If other people show up who can make corrections, I hope they will do that," she said. "I hope that comes up so we can have extra information."
The Taylors' presentation takes place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Artifacts Gallery, 302 E. Main St. Admission is free. Call 505-327-2907.
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.