Savannah Technical College’s Center for Traditional Craft to Make Savannah Grey Bricks with Historic Homeowners Academy

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Friday, September 30th, 2016

Savannah Technical College’s Center for Traditional Craft will offer weekend workshops featuring brick making, iron work and historic building research and documentation for its Historic Homeowners Academy in October.
Millions of renowned “Savannah Grey” handmade bricks were crafted by slaves in the 1800's at the former Hermitage Plantation located on the banks of the Savannah River three miles north of the city. The bricks had a distinctive grayish color that was a result of the composition of the clay and sediment harvested along the river.  These over-sized bricks were abundant, inexpensive, and in high demand from the reconstruction of Savannah, after the 1820 fire destroyed huge areas of downtown, until just after the Civil War.
The bricks had a distinctive grayish color that was a result of the composition of the clay and sediment harvested along the river.  These over-sized bricks were abundant, inexpensive, and in high demand from the reconstruction of Savannah, after the 1820 fire destroyed huge areas of downtown, until just after the Civil War.
The Savannah Grey bricks originally made at the Hermitage can still be seen in Savannah from its stately homes to the warehouses along River Street.  The production of the Savannah Greys slowed around the time of the Civil War, and the bricks are now increasingly rare and valuable.  In the 1950’s, when “urban renewal” efforts resulted in the destruction of many historic masonry buildings, many Savannah Greys were reused in the construction of the mid-century suburban ranch neighborhoods. Now the iconic building blocks of old and new Savannah can fetch a hefty premium price ranging from $2.50 to $6 a piece. Sadly, very few unused bricks remain and the only means of providing new stock is the demolition of further historic buildings.
Historic Homeowners Academy Brickmaking Workshop features Jason Whitehead.
To better understand the fabrication process and the assess the viability of small scale local brick manufacture, Savannah Technical College students in the Historic Preservation and Restoration program are working with renowned brick maker Jason Whitehead to fabricate between 2,000 to 3,000 handmade bricks. These bricks will be fired in a traditional clamp kiln at Lebanon Plantation.
As a Williamsburg native, Whitehead is the fourth generation of family to work for Colonial Williamsburg. He began working at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1995, while majoring in History at Virginia Commonwealth University and has worked in the Colonial Williamsburg Brickyard since 1999. He was the first to complete the apprenticeship curriculum for Historic Masonry Trades, served eight years as a journeyman, and achieved the distinction of being the first Master of Masonry Trades at Colonial Williamsburg in 2015. He has overseen the firing of more than 500,000 bricks during his time at Colonial Williamsburg.  He is instrumental in the masonry trade, which encompasses bricklaying, plastering, brickmaking, and lime burning.
Under the instruction of Whitehead, STC students have been learning the basics of clay mixing, hand molding bricks, and drying bricks for firing. In October, students will be working with Whitehead, along with STC Historic Preservation Program Department Head and Director of the Center for Traditional Craft, Benjamin Curran, and adjunct masonry instructor and owner of Savannah Preservation and Construction, Gary Thorne to construct an 18th century clamp kiln on the grounds of Lebanon Plantation. The resulting bricks will be used by the students during curricular classes to better understand historic masonry repair and restoration.
Though the likelihood of a rebirth of largescale reproduction of Savannah Greys is unlikely, Savannah Tech’s Center for Traditional Craft strives to increase general awareness of the relevance of the traditional crafts in the regional economy and catalyze interest in small scale industry opportunities relating to the historic building trades in the region.
The HHA workshop cost is $50 per weekend, plus a materials fee (if required). The workshops have limited space. To register or for a list of future workshops, go to or like the STC Historic Preservation Department on Facebook. The deadline to register, if space is available, is noon on the Thursday prior to the workshop.  The workshops will be held at the STC Historic Preservation lab (5717 White Bluff Road).
Introduction to Brick Making: With a backdrop of a traditional clamp kiln, students will learning about colonial brick and lime production. Using traditional methods, materials, and techniques, students will become familiar with the art and craft of masonry repair and restoration. Instructor: Jason Whitehead. Cost is $50. AIA CEUS available for this workshop, contact Curran for more details.  [October 15-16, 9AM – 6PM]
Introduction to Iron Work: Ever wonder what the difference is between wrought iron and cast iron or the distinctions in design defined by the material? This class will involve, class lecture, demonstrations, and walking tours that offer a survey of local iron work. Instructors: Rooney Floyd and Able Allen. Materials fee is $15 for a total of $65 for this workshop. [October 14 from 6-9PM, Oct. 15 from 9AM-6PM and Oct. 16 from 9AM - Noon]
Historic Building Research and Documentation: This course will be co-taught by Luciana Spracher and Rebecca Fenwick. Rebecca will introduce students to the basic field methods of documentation and analysis of historic sites and structures to include an overview of measured drawings and photography. Students will gain a greater understanding of field methods, techniques, and uses for recording historic buildings as well as perform basic documentation techniques in the field to record a local historic structure. Cost is $50.  [October 14, 6-9PM, Oct. 15/16 9AM-4:30PM]
October Historic Homeowners Academy Instructors:
Rooney Floyd trained and worked in engineering all his professional career, but he has worked in various aspect of woodworking all his life beginning at a very early age.  He has studied and/or taught numerous woodcarving and blacksmithing classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC for over 30 years.  During this time his special interest has been woodcarving and studied many times under the late Elmer Tangerman known as the Dean of American Woodcarving. Floyd uses the teaching methods of the Danish folk school learned at John C. Campbell, called the “living word”.  In this method students learn by word of mouth while performing hands on work as opposed to text and lectures.
Luciana Spracher is Director of the City of Savannah’s Research Library & Municipal Archives, and prior to that served as the City’s first Archivist. Before coming to the City, she was the owner and principal of Bricks & Bones Historical Research specializing in architectural and local history, and worked as a project archivist for the Georgia Historical Society, the Savannah Jewish Archives, and the Catholic Diocese of Savannah Archives. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Savannah College of Art and Design in Historic Preservation and a Master’s degree in Public History from Armstrong Atlantic State University. Spracher attended the Modern Archives Institute at the National Archives and Records Administration, and is a Certified Archivist through the national Academy of Certified Archivists. She is the author of Lost Savannah (Arcadia Publishing, 2003), A History of Thunderbolt, Georgia (Thunderbolt Museum Society, 2003) and co-editor of Voices of Savannah: Selections from the Oral History Collection of the Savannah Jewish Archives (Savannah Jewish Archives, 2004).

Rebecca Fenwick is a Historic Preservation Specialist for Lominack Kolman Smith Architects. Prior to working for Lominack Kolman Smith, Fenwick worked as a Preservation Specialist for the City of Moline, IL, where she performed National Register nominations and Section 106 reviews. At Lominack Kolman Smith, Fenwick manages projects in addition to performing documentation of and specifying preservation measures for existing buildings. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington in Virginia and a Master of Historic Preservation from the University of Kentucky. Fenwick is a member of the Historic Savannah Foundation's Architectural Review Committee and Savannah Technical College's Historic Preservation Department Advisory Board.