Traditional Patterned Brickwork in New Jersey

Robert W. Craig


This article traces the history of the first architecture of refinement in colonial New Jersey: traditional patterned brickwork, the artful ways in which bricklayers used vitrified bricks to decorate the outer walls of the houses they built. These practices had their roots in 16th-century England, where they were employed in fashionable and prestigious architecture, and where they remained the common knowledge of bricklayers a century later during the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. With the slump in the building trades that resulted from the rebuilding, Quaker bricklayers and brickmakers joined the migration to the Delaware Valley, where they found the greatest abundance of brick clay in West New Jersey. In the century that followed, Burlington County experienced the largest number of patterned brickwork buildings, while Salem County became home to the second largest number, the greatest variety of patterns, and most of the best examples. The best and best-preserved of its early buildings, the Abel and Mary Nicholson house, has been designated a National Historic Landmark for its patterned brickwork. The rise of the Georgian style of architecture reduced the popularity of patterned brickwork after 1750. After the Revolutionary War, the ascendancy of the Federal style was incompatible with patterned brickwork, and that sealed its eventual disappearance. This article combines an understanding of these buildings as physical artifacts while collectively placing them within the larger narrative of New Jersey’s development during the colonial period.

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